‘The Politician’ shows potential in season one


Illustration by Emily Brinkman.

The Politician” is a stylish show with many of Ryan Murphy’s typical over-the-top tropes in this quirky story about a high school politician. The first Netflix original to come from Murphy’s deal with the streaming service, “The Politician” creates a strong foundation for the series.

Focused on candidate for student body president Payton Hobart, played by Ben Platt, “The Politician” discusses mental health, politics and queerness over a Wes Anderson-like backdrop. Payton’s fake personality, desire to be president and wishes of being a better person make for a binge-worthy and enjoyable show. Although there might be a few annoyances throughout the series, “The Politician” has far more highs than lows.

“The Politician” finds one of its greatest successes in its way of building an ensemble. Throughout all of his TV shows, Murphy has built charismatic casts that bring together A-listers and newcomers. With amazing and intriguing performances from Gwyneth Paltrow, Jessica Lange and Platt, “The Politician” would truly be nothing without its cast.

An apparent issue in “The Politician” that comes up in nearly all TV shows based around high school is that all of the characters look 30. It is hard to believe that a character is voting in a high school election when they have frown lines and a receding hairline. While the self-aware “Heathers” can get away with the actors obviously not matching their characters’ ages, “The Politician” comes across as too confused with its message to effectively pull it off.

There are times, like in the episode focused on the undecided voter, where “The Politician” tells the viewer that voting is not necessary and change rarely ever comes from a single vote. In other moments, though, “The Politician” attempts at preaching about one’s civic duties.

“The Politician” would have fared far better had it been more self-aware. There is melodrama throughout the show, particularly in the scenes with the Gypsy Rose Lee parody who Platt’s character chooses as his vice-presidential candidate. However, it never truly addresses how unimportant student elections are. It really is too bad that “The Politician” takes these scenes so seriously instead of playing them up.

But there are times where “The Politician” really gets it right. For example, take Lange’s portrayal of a grandmother named Dusty who is poisoning her granddaughter is perfectly over-the-top for this show. 

Murphy has a habit of tossing far too many themes in his shows, and while “The Politician” does not go too far left like “Scream Queens” did, it still does a bit too much. For instance, Platt is expected to sing in any production he’s involved in, but the musical theater storyline felt random. Also, it seems like the River character was named that purely so Murphy could put the Joni Mitchell song in the show.

River, played by David Corenswet, however, has by far the most endearing plotline in “The Politician.” It might be difficult to accept a heartwarming and endearing plot within a show that is supposedly trying to position itself as satirical, but the scenes with River bring a sense of warmth to the other characters. Corenswet’s character brings everything together and without him, there would really be no reason to care about the other characters.

It can be a little goofy, and a lot of the supporting characters come across as totally unbearable. That aside, “The Politician” is a mostly enjoyable show with all of its melodramatic, confused messiness. “The Politician” ended episode eight with bright signs of a better and hopefully less confusing season two.