The Politician is what you might get if Wes Anderson had made Cruel Intentions as a TV series. Or if House of Cards and Glee had a baby out of wedlock. Producer Ryan Murphy is largely to thank for the aesthetic of high-glamour with a giant scoop of camp, which isn’t surprising given his previous work includes Nip/Tuck, the aforementioned Glee, and both American Crime Story series. If you like shows about good people doing good things, look away now.
If you like shows about good people doing good things, look away now.
Who’s in it? An incredible cast
Aside from his unmistakable visual prowess, Murphy’s superpower is securing incredible cast members for his shows. The Politician boasts Ben Platt in the lead, with support from Gwyneth Paltrow, Jessica Lange, Lucy Boyton, Zoey Deutch, Dylan McDermott, and David Corenswet, who’s got to be the frontrunner to play Superman the next time someone decides to make a movie about the world’s most famous leaper of tall buildings.
What’s it about?
Payton Hobart (Platt) is a high school senior who careens through Santa Barbara’s perpetual summer in a vintage Alfa Romeo convertible. Adopted into obscene money, Payton’s nonetheless dissatisfied with his combination of privileges (whiteness, wealth and willy ownership). See, Payton wants to be the President of the United States one day.
He’s studied the rise of US presidents before him – well, those elected since the advent of television at least – and has a masterplan for his own ascent, along with a crackpot support team. First on the agenda? Getting elected head of the student body.
Payton’s ruthless ambition is wonderful to watch, even if asking us to believe he and his peers are high schoolers is quite a stretch. It’s a reminder that the sorts of people who want to be in politics are almost never the sorts of people you want holding power (and that in Hollywood you’re only as old as the casting director says you are).
His chief opposition in the race comes from the equally morally bankrupt Astrid Sloan (Boynton), who’s only really interested in winning to show her shallow father (McDermott) she’s more than a pretty face.
Not just another teen story
On the surface, The Politician seems to be a teen tale replete with hyper-current pop-culture nods that concerns beautiful people doing horrid things. But as the show progresses it becomes something more. First, it unabashedly sets things up for a multi-season plot trajectory and suggests it has ambitions of being a replacement House of Cards for young folk (here’s hoping none of the stars turn out to be lecherous cretins).
Second, it makes some bold storytelling choices at irregular intervals, like dispensing with a seemingly key character early on and, later, focusing on the narrative of a minor player (one of the voters/students Payton and Astrid’s respective campaigns are trying to woo). Everything suggests that, given a season or three to evolve, The Politician could morph from a superficial caterpillar into a thoughtful butterfly.
Don’t miss Jessica Lange as Dusty Jackson
Also, if you need more reasons to watch The Politician you needn’t look further than Jessica Lange’s brilliant turn as a manipulative and bouffant-toting grandma named Dusty Jackson. There’s also Payton’s nightmarish alpha-male adoptive siblings who speak in jockisms and are as deplorable as they are handsome.
The Hobart twins are obviously parodic versions of the Winkelvoss twins and the Hobart matriarch Georgina (Paltrow) is, well, a parody of Gwyneth Paltrow. What’s utterly remarkable is that Murphy and the writers manage to make Paltrow seem not just sane, but likable. If that’s not magic we don’t know what is.
Watching The Politician raises a host of questions.
On the serious front, it prompts questions about the nature of power, the American Dream, and the sustainability of capitalism. On the frivolous side of things, it makes you wonder where the grownups are? Why Payton’s girlfriend has a taxidermied polar bear in her dining room? And whether you did just hear a German cover version of The Beatle’s “Yesterday”?
The show’s tagline, “We promise to promise you everything”, works not just as a succinct marketing pitch, but also points to the show’s potential failings: at times, it seems to want to be too many things and risks derailing.
What’s truly astounding is that it doesn’t. We can’t wait to see which (no doubt perfectly coiffed) rabbits the show’s creators decide to pull out of the hat next season.