The Politician

Ryan Murphy's latest creation sets its heights too high in its ambition and ultimately suffers as a result

Tv Review by Nadia Younes | 18 Nov 2019
  • The Politician
Title: The Politician
Series Creator: Ryan Murphy
Starring: Ben Platt, Zoey Deutch, David Corenswet, Gwyneth Paltrow, Lucy Boynton, Bob Balaban, Jessica Lange
Platform: Netflix

Ryan Murphy has built his TV empire through a series of visually distinctive creations using a rotating cast of his favourite actors. His latest, The Politician, surrounds central character Payton Hobart (Ben Platt) on his quest to become student body president, and eventually president of the United States. 

The premise isn’t necessarily new; drawing comparisons between the politics of a high school presidential campaign and that of a US presidential campaign has been done many times before (the high water mark being Alexander Payne's Election), and it doesn’t tread much new ground on that front. Too often the show attempts to hold on to this idea of being a clichéd political satire, and this is where it goes wrong. In doing so, it frequently neglects its characters.

Hints of Murphy’s previous projects seep into the show at times and feel misplaced, like Payton’s Glee-esque Joni Mitchell cover dedicated to his close friend, lover and high school golden boy River Barkley (David Corenswet), following his suicide. Payton’s grief at River’s death and their ongoing relationship, where River’s ghost reappears as a sort of guardian angel figure, is the most compelling aspect of the show, but it’s not given enough space to breathe.

The suppression of identity, particularly relating to sexuality, is present in several of the show’s characters: Payton, River, his adopted mother Georgina Hobart (Gwyneth Paltrow) and his campaign manager McAfee Westbrook (Laura Dreyfuss) are all seen to be having secret queer romances. All of them have their own separate reasons for concealing these relationships, but largely it’s a result of their ambition being put before their identity. In many ways, it’s almost like a metaphor for the show itself. By not giving its characters the time and attention they deserve and by putting its ambition before its identity, it becomes confused and, ultimately, suffers as a result.

Streaming on Netflix