Ryan Murphy's The Politician returns this week, with the second of a proposed 5-season arc tracking the ascendancy of rich, white, possibly sociopathic Payton Hobart. After an incredibly rocky first season that was narratively scattershot and temperamentally obnoxious even for a Ryan Murphy series, things seemed to arrive at an intriguing place in the season finale. A three-year time jump took the high-school characters to the end of their college years and introduced two new adult characters as political foils for Payton moving forward. The series enters Season 2 having shed some of its former regulars — Jessica Lange is notably absent from the cast — but somewhat inexplicably, the entire youth cast is returning, despite the fact that a) it made very little narrative sense for most of them to still be in Payton's life, and b) the show was practically screaming to have its main cast pared down significantly.
Regardless, we're back for Season 2, and so is almost everybody else. Here's a first look at who's who in the cast this season:
Tony-winner Ben Platt (Dear Evan Hansen) brought his offbeat charm (and Broadway-tested singing voice) to the role of Payton Hobart, a bone-deep political animal whose quest to win his high school student-council presidential election took up the majority of Season 1. Payton's drive and troubling lack of empathy led him to make a number of cynical, questionable decisions, and he ended up in political ruins. After the season finale's three-year time jump, Payton was a foundering NYU student until his friends (most of them former enemies, but whatever works) convinced him to make a run at 12-term incumbent state senator Dede Standish.
A 45-year veteran of stage and screen, Judith Light is probably best known for her roles on the '80s sitcom Who's the Boss? and the more recent Ugly Betty. Before that, she won a Daytime Emmy for her work on One Life to Live and in the last decade she picked up back-to-back Tony Awards for Featured Actress in a Play. She also earned big acclaim for her performance in The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, which brought her into the Ryan Murphy fold. And now she plays New York State Senate Majority Leader Dede Standish, a popular and longstanding New York politician who we last saw being courted as a Vice-Presidential candidate by Texas senator Tino McCutcheon (Sam Jaeger). Dede's one Achilles heel: her three-way marriage to Marcus (Joe Morton) and William (Teddy Sears).
Legitimate icon Bette Midler needs no introduction, but the singer/actress has built a career that's stretched from bathhouses to the Broadway stage to countless feature films. She's won three Grammy Awards, four Golden Globes, three Emmys, and a Tony Award, the last of which was for her performance in Hello, Dolly!, the same year that Ben Platt won his Tony for Dear Evan Hansen. Introduced at the end of The Politician Season 1, Midler appears to be taking a big bite out of Hadassah Gold, a career political operative who is the woman-behind-the-woman of the Dede Standish political juggernaut. Hadassah is bold, brash, and really looking forward to tearing the Payton Hobart campaign apart. It's hard to believe anyone in the audience doesn't want to see that.
Academy Award-winner and Goop proprietress Gwyneth Paltrow returns for a second season as Payton's loving mother Georgina. After Ryan Murphy spent at least part of his early TV career rhapsodizing about Gwyneth's celebrity essence on Popular, she signed on for his eclectic band of recurring players on Glee. She also married into the family, essentially, having wed The Politician co-creator Brad Falchuk in 2018. Last we saw Georgina, she had left her wealthy husband, auctioned off all her possessions, and according to Payton, was paving mountain roads in Bhutan. This season, look for Georgina to make a momentous decision about her own life that threatens to upstage her son's political ambitions.
NYC-born, London-raised Lucy Boynton is likely best known for her role as Mary Austin in the Oscar-nominated Bohemian Rhapsody. Before that, she'd co-starred in movies like Sing Street and the remake of Murder on the Orient Express. On The Politician, she plays Astrid, Payton's rival for his high-school presidency who somewhat inexplicably becomes part of his team to upend Dede Standish. It's Astrid — via work as a cater waitress in New York City — who gets the dish on Dede's throuple status, which Payton can use to try and take her down.
Daughter of Back to the Future star Lea Thompson, Zoey Deutch has been a rising young actress for several years now. Her big breakthroughs were in the Richard Linklater-directed hot-boys-in-baseball-pants movie Everybody Wants Some!! and the Netflix rom-com Set It Up. Deutch plays Infinity Jackson on The Politician, who starts off as being Payton's running mate, chosen for the sympathy factor because she has cancer. Only in truth she doesn't have cancer; she's a victim of Munchausen by proxy, made intentionally sick by her grandmother (Jessica Lange) in a fairly direct allusion to Hulu's The Act. By the end of Season 1, Infinity is liberated from her grandmother and living a seemingly well-adjusted life, and friendly enough with Payton to come visit him in New York.
Alice is Payton's high-school girlfriend and behind-the-scenes political operator. They strategically break up during the campaign but it becomes more permanent thanks to, among several other things, Alice sleeping with Payton's friend James. In the season finale, Alice is at Harvard and about to wed another man when she runs out on her wedding, Graduate-style, and returns to Payton's side. Before The Politician, Schlaepfer's only screen roles were guest star gigs on Madam Secretary and Instinct, and a small role in the Manson-family movie Charlie Says.
One of Payton's closest political advisors, McAfee — like everyone in Payton's inner circle — had a rocky history with him, including dumping his campaign and becoming romantically involved with his political rival Skye Leighton. In the season finale, McAfee has graduated early from Columbia and gets a job at the Dede Standish re-election campaign. When she's horrified to see what a low-effort, technologically bereft operation it is (Standish has run unopposed for years), she comes running to Payton and convinces him to get back into politics. Dreyfuss entered the Ryan Murphy-verse by playing Madison McCarthy on Glee and on stage, she originated the role of Zoe Murphy, romantic counterpart to Ben Platt's title character, in Dear Evan Hansen.
Along with McAfee, James is Payton's campaign manager and close advisor. He ends up sleeping with Alice in Season 1 and becomes estranged from Payton's political career after Payton ignores his advice about coming clean about Infinity not having cancer. But in the season finale, he and Payton have apparently patched things up and are roommates at NYU together. Theo Germaine is a non-binary young performer best known — besides The Politician — for their regular role on Showtime's Work in Progress.
Skye was running mate to River, Payton's campaign rival and clandestine love interest before his suicide in the first episode. When Astrid took on River's campaign, Skye remained as her Veep candidate. Skye's ambitions were significant, even going so far as attempting to poison Payton with a cupcake. But apparently a three-year time jump heals all wounds, because Skye is best pals with Payton in the finale, enthusiastically encouraging him to run against Dede Standish and signing up to be part of his campaign. Rahne Jones worked for four years as an inspector with the Department of Homeland Security before leaving to pursue acting. The Politician is her screen debut.
The Politician's second season drops on Netflix on June 19.
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Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, The Herald Sun, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.