Since the young age of seven, Payton Hobart knew he was going to be the President of the United States. The new Netflix original series, “The Politician,” follows his journey on the road to the White House, and that all starts with becoming class President of Saint Sebastian High School.
Payton (Ben Platt) thought this seemed simple enough, until he had to face the death of a running mate, more scandals than one can count on two hands, and several assassination attempts. Saint Sebastian takes their school politics seriously.
Alongside the plot of Payton’s road to school presidency is a rip-off of the Dee Dee and Gypsy Rose Blanchard story, that had been better represented by Joey Kings’ “The Act.” While it felt out of place amongst the political landscape, the performances for the characters of Infinity (Zoey Deutch) and Dusty Jackson (Jessica Lange) were extremely well done.
Lange’s one-liners are hilarious, and the two provide much needed comedic relief from the dramatic environment “The Politician” provides. The humor isn’t always outright, sometimes the subtle oddities in each episode are more entertaining than the witty comments from other characters.
Even though the show is advertised as a comedy, it is important to note that it also deals with heavy topics regarding mental health. There’s a suicide in the first episode and, while nothing is actually shown, it can be hard for some people to watch.
Heavy handedness is not the only reason that makes the show difficult to watch. Ryan Murphy, the director, has taken many artistic liberties in piecing together each episode. “Liberties” being used in a sarcastic sense.
I am always one to appreciate the art of creating a new world and immersing an audience in it; however, some ways are tried and true for a reason. In “The Politician,” there are multiple flashbacks and moments of déjà vu that break up what could be a cohesive story.
It does become easier to follow after the first episode, and the choppy directing is almost charming as the end of the season draws near. All the storylines pull together and the brief scenes with River Barkley (David Corenswet), Payton’s running mate whom he shared rather intimate moments with, and who passes away early in the show, only draw the audience in more.
I only wish there were more moments with River, particularly before he lost his life. The before, how everyone becomes friends, or how River and Payton’s relationship develops is never truly explained and, unless the second season digs into that, the emotional scenes with River lack depth.
There is one scene, though, that almost makes up for the major lack of exposition in a highly developed relationship between the two. Payton can be found playing the piano, and River suddenly appears next to him, turning the piece into a duet. It is emotional and soulful, but the best part about it was the song choice.
If there is one thing that was spot on throughout the entire show it is the soundtrack. Having Ben Platt play his own song “Run Away,” from his debut album, on the piano with River moved me similarly to the way his cover of “River” by Joni Mitchell, and “Vienna” by Billy Joel absolutely made the show.
Ben Platt’s voice is, as always, phenomenal. It perfectly captures the emotion that “The Politician” fails to appeal to through the choppy storyline. It fills the gaps.
Color is another big part of the show. It isn’t some big metaphor, but it certainly is vibrant and ever present. Bright hues light up the television screen as though Andy Warhol came and dragged the audience into one of his paintings. The entire aesthetic is entirely captivating and vintage.
The best part about the show – besides Ben Platt’s singing, of course – was the character development. Payton is originally perceived to be some kind of sociopath, even the introduction to the show illustrates him as being mannequin-like, fake and yet so realistic. Platt’s performance as the viewers watch him grow throughout the show, learning to feel real emotion, makes it all feel so real.
What was particularly interesting about “The Politician” was the inclusivity of different genders, sexualities, and races. When watching the show the diversity is natural. There is no stereotypical “gay” character, where that is their only discernable trait. Instead, sexuality is fluid, and no one questions it.
Characters like James Sullivan (Theo Germaine), one of Payton’s campaign managers, portray being transgender in a refreshing way in that it’s never brought up. The show takes it as a natural fact, and focuses on bigger issues than someone just being comfortable in their own skin, all while pushing the message that LGBTQ+ kids are valid.
In the world that “The Politician” is set in, with its diverse cast, and not shoving opinions down viewers throats, seems like the world most people these days are striving to achieve through politics today. This approach only makes the show more relatable, despite the rest of the far-fetched plotlines.
“The Politician” is different, in the best way. Some moments are rather dull when compared to the show’s higher points, but the soundtrack is amazing, the oddness of the entire thing drags viewers in, and the amazing diversity of the cast feels natural. It’s a show that takes some time to get used to, and even then, still feels off at times, but is well worth the watch. I’ll be eagerly awaiting for season two’s release in 2020.