Pilot Script Review of The Politician
A few months before mega TV producer Ryan Murphy left 20th Century FOX Television for Netflix in what is believed to be the biggest TV pact ever, the streaming giant granted him a rare two-season straight-to-series order for The Politician, one of the biggest TV package sales of 2018. Everything’s BIG when it comes to Murphy, it seems. At the time, Barbra Streisand was set to play one of the female leads but Murphy stalwart Jessica Lange has since stepped into her role for unknown reasons. Described as “a one-hour long comedy with social commentary”, The Politicanwill focus on a different political race each season. Word has it that straight-from-Broadway series star Ben Platt will have musical numbers in several episodes of the show, but other details have been kept tightly under wraps. With a copy of the pilot script in hand, let’s see if we can't unwrap them a little
WRITTEN BY: Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuck & Ian Brennan
PAGE COUNT: 68 pages
SCRIPT SYNOPSIS: Two great looking 17-year-olds are making out in an upscale house in Santa Barbara, California. Meet River and his girlfriend Astrid. While on the surface, things may seem hot between them, something doesn’t seem quite right. Turns out Astrid is faking it. When River asks her why, she explains that she’s madly in love with him and doesn’t expect him to be perfect in bed because of his young age and lack of experience. After she leaves, a clearly upset River goes to his father’s office and opens a safe where there’s cash, jewelry and a gun. Then he goes back to his bedroom, looks around, and puts the gun in his mouth.
At that very moment he hears a car screech, followed by someone banging on his front door. In comes Payton, our leading man, filled with rage, tears streaking down his face. After calling River a traitor, he reveals the reason he’s there: he's just learned that River is competing against him to become the student body president of their college. He warns him that this is HIS dream, that he is A WINNER and that he will win this at all costs. River is mortified, and so are we.
COMMENTS: So this is the project that Netfix won in a high stakes bidding war against Amazon and Hulu. I guess I shouldn't be surprised -- they all wanted a Ryan Murphy show. The problem is, while this is indeed a Ryan Murphy show, it isn't American Horror Story, American Crime Story, or Feud. Instead, alongside frequent collaborators Brad Falchuck & Ian Brennan, Murphy has returned to the mileu of one of his earlier series: Glee. To be fair, The Politician is bit more adult-oriented than Glee -- after all, the characters are not in high-school. But what happens in their Santa Barbara college could just as well have happened at McKinley High. In fact, many of it did. Payton, the central character, is our new Rachel Berry: ambitious and opinionated, his goal isn't to become the best singer in the world, but instead the President of the United States.
The Glee feeling doesn’t end there. It becomes even more pronounced when Payton starts looking for the perfect Vice-President from a shortlist of disabled and the minority classmates. Oh, and did I mention he sings, too? He performs a musical number at a funeral and it’s apparently the best thing ever. (In the script, he sings Joni Mitchell’s River. We’ll see if that one sticks.) Most of the other characters are caricatures: the witty best friend, the bitchy one, etc. Astrid, who’s Payton’s nemesis, is a bit more fleshed out, and should become even more important in later episodes since she’s not just River’s girlfriend (no spoilers here). Finally, there’s Infinity Rose -- yep, that’s her name -- a colorfurl girl who has cancer.... all different kinds of cancer, to be precise. Payton wants her as his VP, but she’s not interested, at least not for now. But she clearly has some tricks up her sleeve.
The Politician does have some things to say about politics, ambition and young people, but it doesn’t say them in a way that’s innovative or smart, and it’s hard to take it very seriously when so much of what happens is ripped from earlier Murphy shows. (There are some parallels with Murphy's Scream Queens here, too.) What’s the point of going to Netflix if it’s to do exactly the same thing he did on FOX? I mean.. The Politician is occasionally irreverent and raunchy (there’s a threesome, you guys!) but there's nothing here that Murphy and team couldn’t have achieved on network television.
FINAL RECOMMENDATION: It's not the most imaginative or well-crafted of pilot scripts, and if it aired on FOX or FX I'm guessing The Politician would be dead on arrival. But with a two-season commitment from Netflix, with all of its algorithms and a binge-ready audience, it might just work. In fact, despite all of my own misgivings with the project, I can still see myself tuning in to see how it all plays out.
OVERALL PROJECT SCORE:
[ ] PASS
[ ] RECOMMEND