Remembering Critical Fave ‘Jack & Bobby,’ Which Ended 15 Years Ago
You’d be hard-pressed to find an idealistic TV show about politics these days, but a decade and a half ago, Jack & Bobby told the origin story of a fictional, beloved U.S. president who would become known as “The Great Believer.”
Among the other shows on The WB that year-including Smallville, Gilmore Girls and 7th Heaven — Jack & Bobby didn’t make much of a splash, and it ended with its first season finale, on May 11, 2005.
The show had a lot going for it from the start, including a cast full of current and future familiar faces: Hunters’ Logan Lerman played nerdy teen and future president Robert “Bobby” McAllister; Manifest’s Matt Long played his track star older brother, Jack; and Chicago Hope’s Christine Lahti played their intellectual mother, Grace. Jessica Paré and John Slattery, who would go on to costar in Mad Men, played the future First Lady and her father. And eight-time Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper, then known mostly for his supporting role on Alias, starred on the show as a love interest for Grace.
As Jack & Bobby began, neither teen had aspirations of political glory, and viewers only knew that one of them would become president. Jack, as the more popular brother, was the obvious choice, but flash-forwards reveal that he would die an untimely death after becoming a hero in the War of the Americas and a congressman. Instead, viewers discovered it’s Bobby, the unpopular Space Club member, who grows up to become the commander-in-chief, sculpted in his formative years by his tumultuous home life with Bobby and Grace.
The show — which intercut scenes from Bobby’s youth with interview footage from a documentary about his presidency — even boasted famous guest-stars. Norman Lear played the elder version of the First Lady’s father, Oscar winner Tim Robbins voiced the adult Bobby, and famed novelist and essayist Gore Vidal made a rare screen appearance to play the show’s documentary host.
Especially with that kind of talent at work, Jack & Bobby was a hit with critics. The New York Times’ Alessandra Stanley called it “deeply romantic about politics and public service” with “moments of misty patriotic yearning leavened with sharp dialogue and self-mocking asides.” The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Rob Owen deemed it an “absorbing drama” and “undoubtedly the most grown-up series [The WB] has ever put on the air.” The Baltimore Sun’s David Zurawik raved, “Fine acting and eloquent writing make for characters worth caring about — and a rich viewing experience that resonates with big, muscular, American themes about opportunity, integrity, and leadership like no series this side of The West Wing.”
Additionally, Lahti scored nominations at the 2004 Golden Globe Awards and Screen Actors Guild Awards for her performance.
Still, Jack & Bobby never took off with viewers, and The WB canceled the show right after the first season ended. Interestingly, a politician character named Robert McAllister resurfaced a year and a half later on the ABC drama Brothers & Sisters — another show executive-produced by Berlanti — this time played by Rob Lowe. Even eerier: Like the Bobby of Jack & Bobby, Robert of Brothers & Sisters had a wife named Courtney and a son named Jack.
In the years since its cancellation, Jack & Bobby has become difficult to find. It was never rebroadcast on American television and it’s not readily available to stream online or buy on DVD. But Lerman at least reflected on his experience with the show in a 2018 Us Weekly interview, revealing that he met his best friend, actor Dean Collins, on the show.
“It feels like a while ago but it was the start of my education in film and I have all of these really wonderful, rich memories,” he added. “It was kind of the perfect one season where I got this great film school with all of these wonderfully talented people.”