“Life isn’t a train, it’s a shit tornado of gold”.
It’s apprehensive to consider whether The Politician will be good or not – a brand spanking new dark comedy with Ryan Murphy behind the steering wheel. Murphy has had several hits and misses over his career. Glee’s later seasons teetered off into nonsense and Scream Queens lost its way, but then there’s the critically acclaimed American Horror Story and the earlier seasons of Glee that prove Murphy can write.
The Politician stars Ben Platt as Payton Hobart, an overzealous overachiever adopted into an upper-classed family and taken under the wing of its charismatic and outspoken matriarch, Georgina Hobart (Gwyneth Paltrow). He’s desperate to win the vote for School President to add it to his long list of achievements which will help him get into Harvard in search of his long-term dream of being the President of the United States.
On paper, this is a dated and cheesy premise, but Murphy challenges the tropes with his own surreal and chaotic nonsense. Payton’s climb to the top is not nearly as easy as it seems;there are hurdles that no one will see coming until he’s already stumbling over them and it makes the show an enticing watch. Not knowing what will get in the way of Payton’s campaign for school presidency except breadcrumbs laid out for the viewer is just enough to ensure none of the twists are gratuitously surprising, which shows for excellent storytelling.
The cast is superb in every way. Platt – who recently received a Tony Award for being the lead in Dear Evan Hansen – was exceptional as the sometimes-sociopathic Payton, who is somehow dislikable but easy to root for all the same. He’s imperfect and at times damnable, but he’s played so well that it’s hard not to sympathize with his struggles. Paltrow is equally as exceptional as Payton’s adoptive mother, who serves as a strong voice of wisdom for Payton on his quest for power. Jessica Lange as the eccentric grandmother of Infinity Jackson (Zoey Deutch) – a student at Payton’s school struggling with cancer – and Julia Schlaepfer as Payton’s girlfriend, who’s just as fervent about being Payton’s first lady as he is president, are but a few of the phenomenal standout performances that at times make sure the show and its writing stays upright and afloat.
With dark comedies, there’s always worry that it’ll have some teething problems during its first season, and yet The Politician doesn’t seem to have much trouble past the first two or three episodes. Yet despite the show’s constant wild spontaneity and surrealism, there’s at times a grounded authenticity and a surprising amount of heart hidden behind its wacky sequences. There aren’t just laughs to be found in The Politician, there can be tears too.
The show is so intoxicatingly stylish with how it’s written, directed, and how music is used behind certain scenes. There’s an oddly reminiscent Tarantino vibe to many of the sequences, and at times you’ll find yourself at point A in one episode then somehow at point Z and you’re not really sure how you got there. But that’s exactly what makes The Politician so brilliant.
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