The Politician, the new Netflix original series from Ryan Murphy (Glee, American Horror Story, and Pose), Ian Brennan, and Brad Falchuk, opens with a trigger warning. The show’s pilot features disturbing imagery for some who have had suicidal ideations or attempted suicide. It is jarring and the immediately sets the tone of the dark comedy.
The show follows Payton Hobart (Ben Platt), a wealthy student from Santa Barbara, California who has known since age seven that he’s going to be President of the United States. He also knows to become president, he has to face challenges, his biggest being Saint Sebastian High School’s student body election. But, after his opponent and good friend River (David Corenswet) commits suicide, Payton begins to question his own mental health. Now, with River’s girlfriend Astrid (Lucy Boynton) running in his place, Payton must outsmart his fellow classmates without sacrificing his own morals.
Payton decides to choose Infinity Jackson (Zoey Deutch), his fellow classmate who is undergoing chemotherapy, as his running mate. However, not everything about Infinity is as it seems, forcing Payton and his team of political advisors, James (Theo Germaine) and McAfee (Laura Dreyfuss) to clean up the mess in hopes of still winning the race and securing his spot at Harvard.
The Politician has Murphy’s signature dramatic flair and features a lot of familiar faces to fans of his work. Big scenes are scored to big Broadway-style ballads like “This is My Life” by Shirley Bassey, a rendition of the song “River,” and “Unworthy of Your Love” from the musical Assassins by Ben Platt, sung in-character. The most notable cast member is Jessica Lange, who plays Infinity’s overbearing Nana, Dusty Jackson. The show’s cast also includes other big names like Gwyneth Paltrow, who plays Payton’s mother Georgina Hobart, January Jones, who plays Astrid’s mother, and even Bette Midler.
With that classic Murphy signature dramatic flair, the show has more twists and turns than a hedge maze. The Politician plays like a mix of Gossip Girl and The West Wing. Everyone in the show walks at a brisk pace, which matches well with the pacing of the show itself. It moves quickly, but never so much that it leaves the story behind. The last half of the series leans into its dramatic nature and begins to resemble more of a musical than a traditional television series thanks to the over-exaggerated plot and at times, acting. That being said, it works well and the cinematography set pieces feel grand. Lange is over-the-top in her portrayal of Dusty. It is a role that fits Lange’s style. While she hardly has redeemable qualities as a character, she is thrilling to watch.
Despite its overexaggerated teen drama style, it also handles the themes within the show well, including mental health, suicide and exploring your sexuality. River’s death in the pilot is upsetting. His character is empathetic and incredibly kind, so the loss of him hurts. Corenswet‘s performance is spectacular. The show highlights the fact suicide is often a split-second decision and even someone as loving and beautiful as River can still struggle with suicidal ideations. River’s death propels a lot of the proposals Payton pushes in his campaign. River also plays a big part throughout the series as Payton grows and learns. Payton’s relationship with River is beautifully sad and while everything else in the show has a satirical lens, this doesn’t – it feels authentic.
While revolving around a student council race, the show manages to take on current issues deeply affecting America, including gun control, suicide prevention, and even environmental policies like banning straws, something I am personally adamantly against as a disabled woman. While The Politician has questionable morality in regards to the plastic straw debate, the show does feature an actor with cerebral palsy, Ryan J. Haddad who plays Andrew Cashman. The show also features a legally deaf actor, Natasha Ofili who plays Principal Vaughn. It is very rare to see disabled actors on the screen, so Haddad and Ofili are extra welcome additions to the cast.
The show also focuses on its LGBTQ characters including Payton, who had romantic feelings for River. The show also highlights the gay relationship between McAfee and Skye, (Rahne Jones) who within the show identifies as a non-gender-conforming person. The cast itself also features an array of actors who are part of the LGBTQ+ community, including Haddad, who while he does not play a gay character is gay.
The Politician is an ambitious teen drama that elevates itself through its darker and more adult themes. It balances its satirical look at politics with real issues and conversations currently taking place in the United States. Additionally, despite the fact the show does not take itself seriously, it does offer positive representation for the LGBTQ+ community. The drama is an excellent show that I would recommend to anyone who has enjoyed Murphy’s previous work or similar politically minded shows like HBO’s The Newsroom and Parks and Recreation.
The Politician is streaming now on Netflix.
The Politician Season 1
- The Politician Season 1 - 9/109/10
The Politician is an ambitious teen drama that elevates itself through its darker and more adult themes. It balances its satirical look at politics with real issues and conversations currently taking place in the United States. Additionally, despite the fact the show does not take itself seriously, it does offer positive representation for the LGBTQ+ community.