Created by Ryan Murphy & Brad Falchuk & Ian Brennan
Release Date: 19th June 2020
Streaming Service: Netflix
Since it’s only been… (checks watch)… ten minutes since the last television series from the stable of Ryan Murphy, it stands to reason that we have something new from him.
Following on from the mixed reaction afforded it last year, itself the first series from Murphy following his mega-bucks deal at Netflix, The Politician arrives for its second season looking as if it’s offering more of the same; satirical, funny, wanting to offer plenty of bite, but something has gone amiss, almost as if the teeth such a series should be biting with have been extracted.
Met with somewhat mixed reviews last year, I rather enjoyed the first season of The Politician. It was zany, fast paced and almost approached something of a farcical soap opera. Given that it was centred around a lead character wanting to get into politics, that felt as if it was very well the point of the whole thing.
Murphy’s brand of television hasn’t been afraid to vary in tones and style, managing to go from the glossy dramatic thrills of Nip/Tuck to the more inherently darker and disturbing American Horror Story, to the network television musical of Glee, all the while lending his name to American Crime Story and its portrait of some of America’s most famous modern day crime narratives, but which say as much about the world today as it does about the period each season was set in.
Given that politics nowadays is fodder for internet discussions, memes, satire and humour, the idea of a television show following a character all the way to the White House through a delirium of crazy comedic plots and anti-hero tropes seems enticing, and the first season of The Politician tapped into that nicely (although, as I said before, I was very much one of the few who seemed to appreciate that).
Into season two and something has clearly gone wrong along the way. One of the biggest problems with Murphy’s recent Hollywood, which went off the rails in somewhat naïve fashion (and I will come back to the naïve thing soon) is that the writers of the show have seemingly fallen for their creation, and creation is a massive part of the fabric of Peyton Hobart and Platt’s performance.
The superlative credit sequence is all about creation, but instead of satirizing the creation myth of a modern day politician, a hollowed out wooden vacuum of a person to fill with political ideals and ambitions, the series feels as if genuinely wants us to feel something emotional for him as the season goes on. What initially seems like a broader comedy about the election process, moving from the confines of an Ivy League setting to one in the city of New York, the writing becomes toothless and sentimental by the time we get to the end of the season.
Of course, that might be part of the joke here, but it doesn’t come across as funny; it comes across as sincere. It honestly feels as if The Politician is asking us to care for this rich, privileged white boy who strives to become President, and who, come the final episode, isn’t simply using climate change policies in a manipulative way, but appears to be genuinely believing them, so that makes everything alright then? I guess, it’s really hard to tell what the hell these scripts are really trying to say.
It’s not terrible. The biggest problem The Politician has is that it’s fun and entertaining while it’s on, although it’s better if you split this seven episode run into two sittings because the pace can become a tad exhausting when binged. Once the end credits to the final episode begin rolling, however, it falls apart in your mind and you can see it for the cotton candy series it really is.
Splitting its time between Peyton’s campaign and that of his new rival Dede (Judith Light), the possibilities of what might have been only become more apparent as we spend time away from Peyton.
The entire strand of the show involving Dede and her campaign manager Hadassah (Bette Midler) is broadly farcical like everything else around it, but it’s also carried with so much over the top fun by Midler and Light that sometimes you wish the series just stayed with them. Part of the writing goes for broke with its storyline involving Dede being part of a three-way relationship and her path to being Vice President, but it also seems to offer more to say and with a genuinely enticing combination of comedic bite and dramatic heft, not least when Dede’s age, gender and sexual interests are thrown into the mix.
The biggest issue with the show’s tone becomes evident with the fifth episode. Like the first season, we have an episode that takes the focus away from our characters for a bit to focus on the voters. This season offers a mother and a daughter, each one with opposing views on who to vote for, and it opens with a joyously bitter political discussion before offering a trite ending where everything works out and very little proverbial blood is spilled, and it becomes clear that this is becoming the entire modus operandi for the show.
It wants to offer something sharply observational, but it also wants to envelope itself and the audience into a comforting Aaron Sorkin-like blanket where those striving for the highest office in the land, in this case somewhat more on the side of morally compromised compared to Sorkin’s characters, get a free pass if they manage to do the job right and become a better person as a result.
I would say it’s a cop out ideology that the show offers us come the end of the season, which once again does a time jump and offers an enticing prospect for season three. It’s just makes one wonder since when a Ryan Murphy Television series production got this toothless, or worse yet, naïve.
Hollywood fell into a similar trap of believing that all it took was an Academy Award-winning film to end racism in the film industry (not to mention that producing an openly gay love story was enough to forgive one of its characters for being sexually abusive throughout), and now it seems as if he’s made a series that that suggests that all it takes is drive and political ambition to make the potentially worst kind of privileged white male a better person. That might have been the basis of the joke here, but come the final episode of the season, it honestly feels as if The Politician is