Teaching Civics and Government with The Mayor from ABC
A new show debuted on ABC this fall –The Mayor.
When I first started seeing ads for the show, I wondered, “Is this going to be good for teaching civics?” The premise is that a young, undiscovered rapper decides to run for Mayor as a publicity stunt – and he wins.
On the one hand, it wraps local politics up into a familiar package. The main character and his friends are young, hip millennials that students can relate to. But on the other hand, I was skeptical of the extent to which it would portray politics in a realistic (enough) way.
Although I wasn’t fully convinced by the pilot episode, episode two caught my attention. I’d definitely feel confident in saying that the show has value, and your kids will learn something for having watched it. You may want to select an episode to watch in class, or have your students watch it on their own time.
Below, you’ll find a post with more details on the plot and major themes of each of the first nine episodes of The Mayor.
Episode 1: The Pilot
In “The Pilot,” we learn the backstory of Courtney Rose and follow him through the race for Mayor. He shows up at a debate and makes the crowd go wild, and at the end of the day he is shocked and surprised that he won the election. He puts together a staff, and one of his first major projects – before he even takes office – is to help clean up a local park, the Commons.
One of the most valuable lessons of this episode is how easy it is to become a candidate for office. This is, essentially, the premise of the show, but it’s also explained fairly explicitly. It’s a common question that students have, so it’s nice to see that here. A second major theme is, “What is public policy?” This will be helpful and relevant for those of you working with Project Citizen.
Episode 2: The Filibuster
In “The Filibuster,” Courtney Rose takes over as Mayor of Fort Grey and immediately faces a budget crisis. His rival, the Council President, wants to cut funding for the local music program and Mayor Rose is desperately trying to stop him. He tries a filibuster and fails, but he eventually comes up with another plan.
This is full of themes and lessons to tease out with your students. It shines a light on budgets and why they’re important, and it also highlights why politicians need to know how the process works – even if you want to break outside the box. There’s also a fun filibuster scene, although it’s nowhere near as great as the classic filibuster scene in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
Episode 3: Buyer’s Remorse
In “Buyer’s Remorse,” Courtney has been mayor for a bit and he’s starting to lose that new car smell. His popularity and approval rankings are tanking, and he needs to do something to grab the public’s attention. He eventually settles upon a plan to create covered bus benches and bus stops. His rival, Council President Gunt, gets in the way again, and Courtney has to strategize a way to get around his opposition.
A major theme of this episode is how policy – i.e. covered bus benches – can be driven by political considerations. It’s not just about doing what’s “right.” It’s also useful for talking about the role of journalism in politics as well as how the politics of opposition works.
Episode 4: City Hall-oween
In “City Hall-oween,” the Mayor tries to help the kids of Fort Grey celebrate Halloween. He finds out that parents are worried about crime in the city, and they’re keeping their kids home. The police commissioner reinforces that perception, and so Courtney decides to buck the system a bit and he plans a trick-or-treat halloween party at City Hall.
This is a really great episode for thinking about crime and how politicians respond to it. It’s also a good opportunity to think about how success is measured. Courtney is at first disappointed that his party didn’t solve the entire crime issue in Fort Grey, but then he realizes that it still had value for the children who attended.
Episode 5: The Strike
In “The Strike,” Courtney has to play the role of management as he negotiates a new contract with the city’s bus drivers. He wants to give them everything they want, but this episode is again a good opportunity to think about budgets and how every city has competing priorities. He loses his way a bit, but his mom – a public employee in the postal service – eventually sets him straight.
There’s an interesting scene where the Mayor’s staff convenes a focus group to see what they really care about in the budget. Everyone cares about something different, and this is a perfect example of why everyone needs a seat at the table. There’s also another valuable message in here that workers and unions are people too, who live and work in the city.
Episode 6: Will You Accept This Rose?
In “Will You Accept This Rose,” Courtney runs into some complications in his dating life. He’s a young, single guy, and he wants to date. But when he mixes work and pleasure, he screws things up – and finds out that some people see romantic relationships as tools to support their professional success.
This whole theme of the private lives of public officials is really interesting. How much privacy do public officials have, and how much should they expect? It’s also a good opportunity to talk about the fact that there are few elected officials who are single – especially at the top echelons of the government.
Episode 7: Here Comes the Governor
In “Here Comes the Governor,” the Governor of California is planning a visit to Fort Grey. Courtney and his team have a whole itinerary planned, but the Governor has his own ideas – and he uses Mayor Rose for a quick photo op. Courtney manages to get some favors from the Governor in exchange, but this is almost ruined when a video from Courtney’s past surfaces.
This is a really interesting episode for exploring the idea of being a “sell out.” Courtney’s friends tell him he’s selling out and letting the Governor use him, while Courtney thinks he has a plan to get what he wants out of the Governor. This episode is also a great opportunity to think about how public officials can never really put the past behind them – especially if something isn’t already public knowledge. When it comes to light, it always creates news.
Episode 8: Monuments Men
In “Monuments Men,” Courtney and his team find out that an iconic establishment in town, Tito’s, is about to shut down. The restaurant played a role in the history of Fort Grey, and the Mayor is determined not to let that happen. Of course, he makes a few missteps along the way, but he eventually manages to save the day.
If you live in or around a major city, this episode will resonate for sure. Gentrification is very real, and it often results in places like Tito’s getting pushed out. This episode is a great way to explore and think about that process – and how it effects the community. There’s also the question of corruption, and to what extent a public official can help a private enterprise. Worth thinking about.
Episode 9: Grey Christmas
In “Grey Christmas,” the Mayor is super excited about Christmas until he realizes that the Christmas dinner at the homeless shelter is the big extravaganza it used to be. Courtney tries to come up with some city money to help make things better, but it just isn’t there. He eventually has a vision of what Fort Grey would be like if he were never elected, and he wakes up with a renewed sense of energy. He gives an impassioned speech and inspires residents to come out and help save the Christmas dinner.
While the specific plot details may seem a bit silly, it raises a very serious question – how do you measure success? This hearkens back a bit to Episode 4 and the City Hall-oween. Courtney thinks he’s a failure, until things are put in perspective and he starts to appreciate some of the little victories.
For the most part, The Mayor was a great series. It was entertaining and funny, and it portrayed local politics in an approachable way.
I loved the fact that it was geared towards a mainstream audience – and a young one at that. I’ve loved some other political TV shows in the past, but they’re often marketed more towards people who are already into politics. For this reason, The Mayor was a great opportunity to reach youth who might otherwise be disengaged from the political process.
Unfortunately, ABC made the silly decision to air The Mayor in the same time slot as NBC’s This Is Us. Despite a warm reception and a decent audience, The Mayor just couldn’t compete and it was yanked from the schedule. ABC had filmed a few more episodes, but as yet they have not aired (and I don’t think there are any plans to air them or release them for streaming).
It was good while it lasted, but it’s definitely worth watching this series and picking a favorite episode or two to share with your students. Hopefully, this will find its way onto a streaming service like Netflix soon, but in the meantime you can purchase individual episodes or the entire first season for download on Amazon.