By: Lubaba Mahmud, Staff Writer
The Politician is a try-hard, muddled mess of a series that painfully falls short of its aim to be an enjoyable satire. Released last month, the Netflix comedy-drama centres around character Payton Hobart’s wildly ambitious dream to become president of the United States, the first step of which (he thinks) is to be elected student body president of Saint Sebastian High School. Although The Politician was created by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Ian Brennan — the same creators of successful teen series Glee — the show had me rolling my eyes at its insincere characters and flat attempts at humour.
Payton Hobart, played by Ben Platt, is constantly shown to be losing his identity in his ambition. The series’ first season revolves around his high school presidential campaign, in which he leaves no stone unturned on his path to victory. He is careful to uphold his public image as an empathetic guy who’s dedicated to improving the high school experience for everyone. But as he lets go of his sense of morality time and time again, it is evident that ambition is the frontrunner in his personal battle of ambition vs. identity. This trope has a lot of potential to be interesting and convincing, but the execution is ultimately disappointing.
For me, the utter lack of authenticity and emotional appeal was what made this show a pretentious mess. One reason for this failure is the acting performances that, for the most part, just don’t sell. Platt’s acting is akin to his character’s unsuccessful attempt at creating a genuine image. The creators’ decision to cast adults to play teenagers is a common mistake of misrepresentation, one that may have cost the show dearly. Personally, I felt that the only noteworthy performance was from actor Gwyneth Paltrow, whose delivery of subtle humour as Georgina Hobart really hit home.
The Politician could have been a fun satire, but frankly, it’s missing the beauty of absurdity. Its hyperbolic tone, clusterfuck of subplots, cheesy dialogues, and shallow characters are far from a good match. Not every character has to be likable, of course, but at the very least, protagonists need some depth to their characters to make viewers want to know their story. Instead, what we got was a couple of privileged and wealthy teenagers who are engrossed in their own little worlds.
Further, the series deals with social issues in an inadequate and disturbing manner. It sparked a mental health controversy due to its wrongful depiction of suicide and insincere trigger warning for audiences. Throughout season one, suicide is constantly romanticized, which experts say may lead to imitative behaviour in viewers. Another troublesome issue is the hint of misogyny in some episodes, which show a teenager demeaning herself and downplaying her achievements to soothe her boyfriend’s ego. As a show catered towards a young audience, this is a dangerous precedent to set for them. Come on, man. It’s 2019 — why are we still showing such blatant misogyny on screen?
While a lot does happen in each episode of The Politician, I was never on the edge of my seat. Even cliff-hangers and moments of revelation weren’t enticing, as I could see them coming from a mile away. And although the show does feature well-chosen songs, strong singers, and a few examples of smart dialogue, these aren’t enough to compensate for its disastrous execution. The one other positive aspect of the show was the visually pleasing and highly colour-saturated sets, reminiscent of those by Wes Anderson.
Perhaps what best describes the show can be summed up by its own far-from-exceptional dialogue: “It’s a pandemic of overcommunication that’s led to an absence of intimacy.”