It’s safe to say that the current state of US presidential politics is at the very least a little bit messy. Ryan Murphy’s debut Netflix series, The Politician, shares this messiness. And because the series is a satire of US presidential politics, one might make the argument that the series’ disjointedness and occasionally, complete absurdity, is intentional.
Such an argument would be far-fetched. Like the series’ protagonist, the ambition of The Politician is its own undoing. It tries to do too much with too little, which only serves to detract from its merits.
The series’ protagonist is Payton Hobart (Ben Platt), a rich, possibly sociopathic high school student whose only goal in life is to become President of the United States. In pursuit of this goal, he runs for high school student body president. This is the only logical story arc of the entire season.
In another arc, Payton’s classmate and running mate Infinity Jackson (Zoey Deutch) initially believes she has cancer before realising that her grandmother (Jessica Lange) has been poisoning her since birth. At the end of the season, the show’s writers hastily connect Infinity’s arc to Payton’s by having Infinity’s grandmother conspire with Infinity’s ex-boyfriend Ricardo (Benjamin Barrett) to assassinate Payton. This is ridiculous, even for a satire.
The series’ other unnecessary storylines include Payton’s mother’s (Gwyneth Paltrow) choice between staying with her husband (Bob Balaban) or running away with a horse trainer (tennis legend Martina Navratilova), Payton’s classmate Astrid’s (Lucy Boynton) plan to fake being kidnapped by Ricardo, and an affair between Payton’s sort-of-ex-girlfriend Alice (Julia Schlaepfer) and best friend James (Theo Germaine). And unfortunately, this doesn’t even cover all of the pointless story arcs in the series’ first season — which, by the way, has only eight episodes.
But while the series certainly has its faults, it also has moments of greatness. Ben Platt turns in an excellent performance as Payton. Viewers also get to hear Platt sing multiple times throughout the season — a welcome surprise for fans of Dear Evan Hansen or Pitch Perfect.
The series’ LGBTQ+ representation also shines in a world of straight-dominated TV shows. Many of the main characters, including Payton, are sexually fluid. The decision to cast Theo Germaine in a major role is a huge step forward for trans actors. And on top of that, it never feels like the show’s creators are pandering to an LGBTQ+ audience.
Finally, at its core, the show is an effective satire of modern American presidential politics. From the beginning of the first episode, the show takes shots at both the current president and the state of the 2020 presidential race. Although the satire is a little too on-the-nose, it certainly accomplishes its goal.
And the show doesn’t only poke fun at US politics — its other targets include American university admissions, police and politicians’ ubiquitous “thoughts and prayers” response to tragedy. Ultimately, during the moments when it stays focused, The Politician is actually a lot of fun.
So, while the first season of The Politician often spirals out of control, there is hope for the second season. If the show’s creators can create a more focused and believable second season, the show could be great. The end of the final episode leaves viewers wondering what’s next. Despite the flaws of the first season, The Politician is perhaps due a second chance.
Image: Daniel Benavides via Wikimedia Commons