Bette Midler isn’t playing herself in HBO’s “Coastal Elites,” but it sure seems like it.
Delivering the first of five monologues in writer Paul Rudnick’s “socially distanced comedy,” Midler stars as Miriam Nessler, a quintessential New Yorker who hates Donald Trump. I mean, she detests him.
So does Midler, as she’s made clear on Twitter on pretty much a daily basis: “What a s----y president he is.” “He’s so f-----g awful.” And on and on.
So not surprisingly, Midler said she “identified very, very strongly with this character. I felt almost as if Paul had written it for me, because he knows how nuts I am on the subject of the current inhabitant of the White House.
“So, for me, it was cathartic. Unfortunately, not cathartic enough because I’m still in a state of rage and anxiety.”
“Coastal Elites” (Saturday, 6 p.m. and 9:20 p.m.) was originally scheduled to be staged in New York early this year and then filmed for HBO. But in the wake of the pandemic, it became an HBO-only production.
In addition to Midler’s Trump-hating public school teacher, it features Dan Levy (“Schitt’s Creek”) as an actor talking online to his therapist about auditioning for a gay superhero role; Issa Rae (“Insecure”) as a woman talking to an old friend about a former classmate — Ivanka Trump; Sarah Paulson as the host of an online show titled “Mindful Meditations”; and Kaitlynn Dever (“Unbelievable”) as a Wyoming nurse who volunteered to go to New York during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. And nobody is a big fan of the current occupant of the White House.
Rudnick started writing “Coastal Elites” more than a year ago — pre-pandemic — when he “realized that everyone I knew was angry and heartbroken … and concerned about the future of our country.” Post-pandemic, he added the nurse character and made the other four monologues more about life in a world with COVID-19.
“One of the great advantages, actually, of filming so in-the-moment and so quickly with people who were so adaptable was that I could weave both the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests into the material,” he said.
It’s more than a bit uneven — Midler’s, Paulson’s and Dever’s segments are the strongest — but the characters are indelible. And unapologetically “Coastal Elites.”
Midler’s character, Miriam Nessler, is one of those overbearing New Yorkers who thinks that only New York matters — at least until you get to the West Coast. But, just ask her, she’s sure she doesn’t condescend to the residents of “flyover states.”
“I mean, I fly over them, but I wave!” she insists.
Oh, and her monologue is delivered in a police station. She’s in custody.
Each of the five stars perform from their own homes. Remote cameras were installed by crews following safety protocols.
Midler said she felt “very well taken care of. I really did. I’m so paranoid, because I’m so old, you know? I feel like anything can happen to me, even if I go to the post box, I’m in trouble.” (She’s 74.)
“I really felt that I was in superb hands. Every question that I had was answered and I got a free COVID test out of it, so it was win-win all around.”
The actors performed to cameras while crew members were outside their homes, with director Jay Roach also working remotely. It was a bit like working from a home studio — although it was nothing like the recording studios Midler, a three-time Grammy winner, is accustomed to.
“I mean, usually when you go to a recording studio, there’ve been plenty of people and lots of food,” she said. “And in this case, there were no people and a lot of equipment and no food.
“The conditions are so utterly bizarre. It really is like we’re on some sort of a spaceship and we don’t know where the spaceship is going.”