TV TATTLE

The Politician feels like a Netflix algorithm version of a Ryan Murphy show that doesn't have much to say about politics

  • "The Politician neglects to match its budgetary or business ambition with the creative kind," says Alison Herman of Murphy's first Netflix series. "Whatever one thinks about his provocative, flagrantly uneven style, Murphy’s CV is punctuated with benchmarks that moved the medium itself forward along with his career. Glee injected a camp outrageousness into once-fusty network TV that lives on in successors like Riverdale; American Horror Story single-handedly put the seasonal anthology into vogue, enabling the related trend of film stars trickling into TV; Pose set a new bar for representation, both in front of and behind the camera... The Politician’s eight-episode first season gives no indication it will become so influential. The show successfully integrates Murphy into Netflix’s self-contained universe, but true to its home, it feels more like an algorithmically generated collage of Murphy tropes than a meaningful evolution of the creator’s sensibility." Herman adds: "The haziness of its central figure means The Politician doesn’t have much to say about, well, politics. As attempts from Who Is America? to Succession have shown, the time is certainly ripe for explorations of who holds power in this country and what motivates their actions—or rather, doesn’t, when it comes to morals or a conscience. But (Ben Platt's) Payton conforms to a now-dated idea of what the quintessential politician even is. Payton is obsessed with the biographies of onetime presidents, from the institutions they attended to the offices they held on the way to the White House. There’s one very big exception to his roster of idols, though—a glaring omission for a person we’re told has an all-consuming interest in the pathways to power...Payton may invoke a familiar figure, but The Politician declines to update its imagery for a more anarchic, even more nihilist phase of the American experiment."

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    • The Politician is a show about ambition -- Ryan Murphy's: "The creator's first Netflix series says a lot more about his own power than the main character's hunger for it," says Melanie McFarland, adding: "A show like The Politician could only happen on Netflix, a streaming service whose motto might as well be, 'Keep watching, it gets better.' Murphy’s brand and style fits that ethos incredibly well; even when the A-plot is at its most ridiculous and peripatetic, the cinematography and color-drenched scenery is mesmerizing enough to take your attention hostage. And the credits are positively arresting — you might not ever hit that 'Skip Intro' button."
    • The Politician comes across like a tribute to Wes Anderson, all Rushmore eccentricity and meticulous aesthetics: "This being a Ryan Murphy series... there’s also a defiant kind of glibness, a reluctance to make space for emotional candor or psychological depth or even Andersonian melancholy," says Sophie Gilbert. "Suicide, murder, Munchausen by proxy, the violent impulses underlying toxic masculinity—all of these subjects exist at eye level, but when you scratch the surface, there’s nothing underneath."
    • The Politician is an emotionally constipated train wreck: "Sometimes it’s nice to get into a car without knowing what your destination will be," says Justin Kirkland. "But Ryan Murphy's The Politician is not that kind of joyride. Rather, the new Netflix show is more like taking that gasoline-run car, putting it at the top of a hill, filling it with diesel instead, setting it on fire, pushing it down the hill, hopping inside, doing some black tar heroin on the way down for funsies, and then just seeing what happens. Oh, and you survive. That's not to say that The Politician is bad, if you're into that kind of thing. But over the course of eight episodes, the series shuffles between storylines and tone and time jumps to the point where you're not entirely sure what's going on by the time you finish. It's Murphy's hottest fever dream to date."
    • The Politician is the most Ryan Murphy–ass show to which he’s ever applied his skills: "Nearly everything about it invokes the uncanny," says Alexis Nedd. "The characters’ costumes are obsessively styled and amped up to invoke archetypes that barely existed until Murphy came up with them. The dialogue erupts like the rapid firing of a machine gun, blowing past jokes that kill nonetheless; its message is similarly murdered in the show’s last act, but by the end of Season 1 that does seem to be the point. Saying The Politician is a TV show about Payton Hobart’s (Ben Platt, wonderful in the role) ambition to become President of the United States by first winning his high school’s presidential election is like saying Pose is a series about people who really like trophies. It’s a raging oversimplification that also diminishes nearly everything else that happens onscreen. The Politician is an exercise in being and feeling bamboozled by existence."
    • This is another dazzling Ryan Murphy triumph: "It has his trademark hurricane of a narrative that sweeps you up and deposits you breathless and agape somewhere else entirely an hour later," says Lucy Mangan. "He has garnered a set of blistering performances from his actors...The Politician is infused with Murphy’s genius for illuminating the macro through the micro. Nothing is quite what it seems, and in the teenagers’ pathologically self-conscious lives we see the world and the politics we have created. We watch as personalities and attitudes are constructed, torn down, flung up again, filtered, adjusted, lit, shadowed, complicated and simplified as needful. The medium is the message, the message is the medium. True distinctions collapse, and meaningless ones are demarcated."
    • The Politician is Peak Ryan Murphy, which isn't a bad thing: "His voice becomes so conspicuous as its first season progresses that the show winds up being the purest expression of his sensibility to date," says Judy Berman. "Like American Horror Story, it tackles contemporary anxieties in overwrought yet imaginative ways. Like Glee, it’s about young people figuring out who they are; queerness abounds, though in a post-Pose world, casual fluidity is the rule. Authentic emotion coexists with camp. There’s singing, dancing, violence, stunt casting, side plots ripped from the headlines. The show is a lot. And it seems destined to be both popular and polarizing."
    • The Politician is compulsively watchable despite its flaws: "There is a lot happening during the eight episodes of The Politician (I’ve watched them all), creating a convoluted and messy narrative that fails to ever fully come together or say anything of importance," says Pilot Viruet. "The gist of the series is to show us how a politician becomes a politician, tracing it back to teenage years."
    • Ryan Murphy gets to have fun again in one of the best new shows of fall: "It’s a deeply cynical, ridiculously heightened take on the focus-group nightmare that is our current political reality — both Payton and his opponent employ full-time campaign advisors and pollsters — and it takes a few stinging swipes at excessively 'woke' culture along the way," says Dave Nemetz. "...How much you enjoy all of this will depend on your appetite for the usual Ryan Murphy antics, and a certain subplot I won’t reveal feels like an unnecessary dollop of frosting on an already frosted cake. But the all-at-once Netflix format allows The Politician to take some interesting side routes, too, like an episode told from the perspective of a lone undecided voter at school who’s constantly being hounded about who he’s supporting."
    • The Politician feels out of touch with 2019: "As a production, The Politician is an heirloom apple: crisp, tart and expensive looking," says James Poniewozik. "But something feels unconvincing in the details, and not just because many of the actors seem to have aged out of high school years ago. The students still receive college notices by envelope and not by email. The pop culture references include Britney Spears. The student body election has more constant and granular polling than the current Democratic primary. More important, the show’s sendup of elections as bloodless, staged theater, run by overprepared, bland candidates scripted within an inch of their young lives, feels quaint at a time when national politics has become a chaotic non sequitur production of Last Insult Comic Standing...Of course, that’s if you take The Politician as a satire of politics, which in the end it may not be. What it captures most evocatively and viciously is the culture of overstressed, Ivy-besotted student achievers and dumb money."
    • The Politician feels like Glee scrubbed of its nice-core wholesomeness: "It’s Glee’s rich, distant cousin that would spit on its shoes and then trip it at a family reunion just because it can," says Iana Murray. "Both come from the same creative team, who are also behind American Horror Story and Scream Queens, but Netflix’s newest teen comedy packs a lot more bite and nastiness that its tangentially-related predecessor never had. Glee went completely off the rails in its later seasons, but—and this is saying a lot, considering some of that show’s more controversial plot points—it’s nothing compared to this."
    • The Politician suffers from a combination of Netflix bloat and Ryan Murphy’s own tendency to overreach for the hell of it
    • Why The Politician costume designers dressed Gwyneth Paltrow in Gucci and Jessica Lange in T.J. Maxx
    • Gwyneth Paltrow hopes The Politician's cynicism teaches young viewers the true characteristics of politicians

    TOPICS: The Politician, Netflix, Ben Platt, Brad Falchuck, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ian Brennan, Ryan Murphy, Costume Design




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