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August 31, 1986|Howard Rosenberg

"SPITTING IMAGE: DOWN AND OUT IN THE WHITE HOUSE," Saturday, 9:30 p.m. (4)(36)(39)--Move over, Muppets.

Here comes the concluding segment of a brilliant, inventive, wickedly funny, two-part satirical slasher from Britain, starring life-sized puppets of the famous. Prepare to laugh--hard!

The Spitting Image puppets have been an outrageous favorite on British TV, while lampooning royal family members, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and President Reagan, among others. Though produced in London, these two David Frost-hosted half-hours were targeted for the United States, being at once a perfect put-down of politics, politicians and celebrities and a reaffirmation of American values.

Part one (aired last week) introduced us to The Famous Corporation, a sinister organization of celebrities headed by Ed McMahon that plotted to make sure the next President is one of their own. That plan went awry, however, when the animal appeal of Republican candidate Sylvester Stallone was no match for the goodness and sincerity of the Democratic candidate, an unknown who turned out to be Uncle Sam. Another plan was needed.

As the hilarious first half-hour ended, the corporation was about to kidnap the elderly Reagan and substitute Dustin Hoffman in a Reagan mask. A younger Hoffman would then be able to vigorously pursue a constitutional amendment allowing him to run as Reagan for a third term. How evil!

Part two is also a howl.

Except for Uncle Sam, everyone gets it in "Spitting Image." Reagan is a babbling idiot who is treated like an infant by his aides, and Vice President George Bush a fawning "yes" man. The Democratic leadership is hypocritical, foolish and self-destructive. The oodles of celebrities--from a mumbling Stallone to a grinning Jack Nicholson--are mercilessly impaled on their public personas. "NBC Nightly News" anchorman Tom Brokaw fronts a "Newswash" set in a laundromat. And of course, Richard Nixon shows up.

Frost and Jon Blair are the executive producers for "Spitting Image." Everything-- everything --works: the wonderful puppets, the replica voices, the sharp writing, the wonderful irreverence. If only American audiences could be exposed to this kind of satire on a regular basis.

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