Article Originally Published by Haley Arnold on North Texas Daily
In the first three or four episodes of Ryan Murphy’s “The Politician” season one, I was in love. I watched as the privileged and ambitious teenage Payton Hobart (Ben Platt) ran for student body president alongside his VP Infinity Jackson (Zoey Deutch), triggering my enneagram type three-wing and encapsulating how toxic our obsession with success has become. In typical Murphy fashion, it was a flashy, eccentric watch with over-the-top characters and some good-old-fashioned backstabbing. It started off as a more self-aware and satirical version of “Gossip Girl,” full of snobby rich kids who would do anything to win and are way too obsessed with being perfect (Payton screaming “I spent years learning Mandarin, and for what!” After being waitlisted at Harvard was the perfect representation of this.)
But the show declined as the season dragged on. It was initially entertaining to watch high school kids act like their election was the end-all, be-all of the world, but then the plot became aimless, character motivations kept changing and the climax failed to deliver anything meaningful. It still was a solid season, though, and thankfully the finale saw a time jump to Payton as a junior at NYU, getting his act together and announcing his intent to run for New York State Senate, offering the opportunity for a fresh new start for season two’s plot.
Sadly, jumping into the real world of politics made the show even more aimless than before. While not completely devoid of entertainment, “The Politician” season two goes nowhere with wishy-washy characters who don’t develop whatsoever and sociopolitical commentary that isn’t explored enough to actually make a statement.
Payton’s entire campaign platform in season two revolves around climate change, and I spent the whole season trying to figure out what commentary the show was trying to make about it. At times the showrunners drive home how important of a cause it is, but other times they poke too much fun at climate activists and the futility of the cause. The show also touched on ageism through State Senate incumbent Dede Standish (Judith Light), and I’m not sure whether showrunner was arguing for or against youth representation in politics. Payton touches on increasing voter registration for Black and brown folks and then never mentions them again. There’s also a weird moment where cultural appropriation is looked down upon, but then excused a few minutes later. The show is supposed to be a mockery of privilege and ambition and political talking points, but instead, it just touches on so many topics at once that it can’t actually drive anything home. It says a lot of things without really saying anything at all.
Another major flaw of “The Politician” is that the characters have learned literally nothing across either season. It would be fine if the characters stayed consistently malicious and conniving — that would be fitting commentary for the subject matter. But they do this thing where they try to make it seem like Payton and co. are growing, learning to work through the moral dilemma of “Do I really care about helping the world, or do I just want to win and have power to fulfill my ego?” The problem is this doesn’t actually go anywhere. One minute Payton is acting like he’s learning a pivotal life lesson, and the next he’s acting like his old self again. Certain characters, like Astrid (Lucy Boynton) and Infinity, pop in and out aimlessly. It seems the showrunners have no idea who anyone is and no intention of figuring it out.
As someone who has seen Platt on Broadway, I know he can act really well. But here, he just seems meh. I’m sure a lot of that was due to the writers and not him personally, but he only really delivers when he’s singing or crying (this man is really, really good at being sad). The other actors are serviceable in their roles, especially Light and Bette Midler, who plays Dede’s assistant. My favorite person to watch, though, was Gwyneth Paltrow as Peyton’s mom. She’s fabulous in this role — probably because it’s exactly how I picture Paltrow to be in real life.
Overall, “The Politician” season two is still stylish, playful and raunchy enough to be entertaining, but you finish the season feeling like you don’t really know what you just watched. For peak Ryan Murphy, I’d recommend “Pose” or “American Crime Story.” Even his recent production “Hollywood,” which had flaws of its own, is one I’d recommend over this. Unlike “The Politician,” it offers a more compelling storyline, heartfelt moments and endearing characters — and, if nothing else, more David Corenswet to look at.
Final rating: 2.75/5
Featured image: Courtesy Netflix
Source: North Texas Daily