“Year One: A Political Odyssey” examines the first year of President Biden’s administration. Premiering in October on HBO and HBO Max, the timing for the release of this documentary feels like it was positioned to help people understand how government, especially foreign policy, works.
The opening scenes are from Inauguration Day, January 20, 2021, focusing on the massive security that was in place around Capitol Hill and the White House. The security approach was to be expected due to the occasion, but with January 6 seared in our recent collective memory, things were amped up several notches.
“A lot of steps and precautions were being taken. We couldn’t even get close enough to drive here on our first day,” former White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said about getting to her office. “All the senior staff met at the zoo, then got on buses. We watched the inauguration on our phones.”
Directed by Emmy-winning filmmaker John Maggio and executive produced by Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist David Sanger, “Year One” looks at the work of key Biden staffers, tackling major issues, and the realization that even with an innovative, dynamic team, it still was not enough.
“You’re gonna need a bigger boat,” the memorable line from the movie “Jaws” is the best analogy for what the 46th President of the United States encountered.
Sanger is more than an executive producer on “Year One.” He has covered the White House since the Clinton administration and worked on big national security projects. His on-camera time looks at how key administration staff made tough decisions. Sanger also evaluates wins and missteps by the Biden White House.
“For Biden, the biggest challenge is to make clear that democracy could be a winning formula for everybody,” Sanger said. “To do that, he brought back the people he knew best.”
To hit the ground running, the President brings to his cabinet and other strategic senior people he worked with during his Senate and Vice President roles. The initial team includes Chief of Staff Ron Klain, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, National Security Advisor of the United States Jake Sullivan, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency William Burns, and Counselor to the President and White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeff Zeints.
Going until the State of the Union in March 2022, “Year One” highlights many significant issues the current administration manages. Everyone knew that tackling COVID-19 would be number one. Not expected was the pushback by Biden supporters toward the vaccine, CDC travel protocols, and the Omicron variant.
Getting out of Afghanistan was ill-prepared, leading to disastrous results. The U.S. turned into a ping-pong ball in a taunting game between China and Russia. Unlike Afghanistan, America seemed to be better prepared for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In a conversation with his editor, it was easy for Sanger to summarize what the President has encountered beyond the unexpected.
“Ukraine is going to be a constant diplomatic effort. It will haunt the next three years of his presidency,” Sanger said in 2021. “What do you do if this ambitious, deadly gambit by Putin succeeds? No one knows what the world will look like five or 10 or 15 years from now.”
Releasing “Year One” during October, right before the mid-terms, was probably considered strategic to show the Biden administration’s accomplishments. Viewers may have different opinions.
“Year One: A Political Odyssey” is available on HBO and HBO Max. See the trailer at https://youtu.be/oBqYdSbz6_w.