The Politician, the latest production from Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy, is equal parts brilliant and scattered. It’s pretentiously adult but set in a high school. Thematically it jumps around from one idea to another and never quite lands. Ryan Murphy regulars abound. Yet overall, it’s wonderful.
Most of the story centers around Payton Hobart (Ben Platt), the politician of the title. He’s running for student body president. He has a lifetime plan that will propel him into being President of the United States, and this is step one.
The team behind him talk and act like seasoned political operatives. They talk polling and odds and voter demographics and strategy like pros. James (Theo Germaine) and McAfee (Laura Dreyfuss) are his advisors. The icy blonde Alice (Julia Schlaepfer) is his girlfriend and future first lady of the US.
The person Payton actually loves and connects with is River (David Corenswet). But River has problems that prevent him from being with Payton most of the time.
Payton’s political aspirations bring up motifs about the end justifying the means, about blind ambition, about doing anything to win, and about doing something good with your power.
Payton decides to make Infinity (Zoey Deutch) his running mate. She seems to be dying of cancer so he likes her optics.
Infinity is actually a victim of her grandmother Dusty’s (Jessica Lange) penchant for poisoning those in her care. That brings in an entire subplot about Munchausen by proxy and gaming the system that give Jessica Lange so many opportunities to be ridiculously good it’s downright funny. But, of course, she’s crazy and a murderer.
The whole Infinity situation gets sorted out because of Andrew (Ryan J. Haddad), a student at the school. He has cerebral palsy and knows Infinity isn’t really riddled with cancer.
Ryan J. Haddad actually has cerebral palsy. Principal Vaughn (Natasha Ofili) is actually a deaf actor. There’s a trans actor and so many gay characters it’s spectacular. The Politician wins all the LBGTQ points available as well as disability inclusion points. This IS a Ryan Murphy series, people.
When the Infinity situation blows up and threatens to derail Payton’s campaign, he quickly picks Skye (Rahne Jones) as his running mate instead. She a lesbian of color. That’s almost as good as cancer.
One entire episode was devoted to the concept that voters are idiots. Russell Posner played the sought after voter and did the idiot part to perfection.
Running opposite him is Astrid (Lucy Boynton). She’s not really into the whole thing and runs off part way through the campaign.
The parents of all these teens had problems of their own. Astrid’s parents were Theo (Dylan McDermott) and Lisbeth (January Jones). They were the rich thugs and former hookers in the story. Every political story needs them.
Payton’s mother (Gwyneth Paltrow) was in love with Brigitte (Martina Navratilova) but married to the very rich Keaton Hobart (Bob Balaban). Payton was their adopted son and constantly in and out of the will depending on what his twin brothers were doing or how attentive his mom was to his dad.
How The Politician gains heart through defeat
Spoiler alert. Payton loses the election. One way or another. And he doesn’t get into Harvard, which was step two of his plan to achieve the Presidency of the US.
He gives up all his political ambitions, moves to New York to go to NYU and sing in a bar. Ben Platt, in case you weren’t aware of it before, is a fantastic singer. Yes, there is singing.
Payton becomes a drunk.
He’s drunk with feelings. Blind ambition robs you of your feelings. You don’t care what you do to others as long as you succeed. Losing makes you human again. That’s just one of the many thematic elements tossed about in this political black comedy.
But back to politics
Season 2 is already set to go. The final episode of season 1, which was really the first episode of season 2, brought in a whole new storyline with Judith Light as a NY state senator, Bette Midler as Hadassah Gold, her campaign manager, and husband Joe Morton as 1/3 of the people in her marriage bed.
I really can’t wait to see these people in season 2.
The Politician was created by Ian Brennan, Brad Falchuk, and Ryan Murphy. Women directors include Gwyneth Horder-Payton, Helen Hunt, and Janet Mock. Season 1 is streaming on Netflix. Season 1 has tons of bright, bright color but no socks. Maybe consider watching in sunglasses.
Check out the trailer.