Monday, 30th October 2017

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The Politician is the dark comedy drama that we could all do with a healthy dose of

The song by the incomparable Sufjan Stevens in the title credits of the Netflix Original is commendable

  • Published 9.10.19, 9:18 PM
  • Updated 9.10.19, 9:18 PM
  • 3 mins read
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Ben Platt and Gwyneth Paltrow star in the Netflix Original The Politician by Ryan Murphy, marking the beginning of a 300 million-dollar deal between the director and the OTT platform. (Screengrab)

I want to be the president of the United States,” says Payton Hobart in the very first scene of The Politician, a Netflix Original series by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan that released on September 27. Played by Broadway star Ben Platt, this singular line at his Harvard admission interview, sets the tone for the rest of the show that aims to bring political drama, wrapped in a heightened reality, to every living room. Dark humour meets macabre in this classic show that will take you back to Murphy’s Glee days as he adds a touch of House of Cards to it, only here the candidates are playing and fighting dirty to win the favour of a high-school student body elections. However, this is just the beginning of a show that has set the stage with eight introductory episodes, giving us a glimpse of its immense potential for the seasons to come.

The story revolves around Payton Hobart, who was adopted into the ultra-wealthy and extremely passive Hobart family, where he grew up to be an ambitious young man of limited emotions and “the love of his mother’s life” — Georgina Hobart, played to perfection by Gwyneth Paltrow. The passiveness of a rich housewife whose hobbies don’t extend beyond the finest pieces of couture and painting in the sun, demanded someone whose acting chops naturally served as a detriment to an over-the-top performance and hence, we can’t imagine anyone other than Gwyneth.

Teaming up as pillars to Payton’s single-minded dream are his two friends McAfee (Laura Dreyfuss) and James (Theo Germaine) and his girlfriend Alice (Julia Schlaepfer) who has all the makings of a First Lady of the United States. The basic premise remains simple — do what it takes to get to the prize, in this case the school presidentship, even if it involves poisoning your classmate. The satire is subtle, referring to multiple topics like gun control, ivy-league admissions chaos, depression, oversharing as a vice in this generation and the conditional lives of the rich. While that makes for a great dramatic comedy, it hardly addresses the need to take a serious look at these ailments of American society. The vapidity does get to you in places but you learn to look past it, to soak in the drama of the rich. Taking digs at popular social events, the humour too is understated as we see the admissions officer of Harvard University take a dig at Trump and respond to Payton’s presidential dreams with a sarcastic, “That does seem to be the hot job everyone aspires to nowadays. The air of impossibility has been removed.” One of the first things you’d notice about the show is its fluidity of sexual orientation and embracing queerness, where it’s almost a separate tool for character definition. Payton and his alleged affair with River Barkley (David Corenswet) who looks like a Ken doll came to life; McAfee’s secret affair with Skye Leighton, a girl who initially signs up to be the running mate of Payton, his brief rendezvous with his arch-nemesis Astrid Sloan (Lucy Boynton) and River, his mother’s love affair with a woman named Brigitte (played by the very unexpected Martina Navratilova) — become crutches on which the plotline leans to move forward. Gender takes a back seat as acceptance becomes the norm. There is betrayal, sudden deaths, dramatic and failed murder attempts and a background score that moves you into absorbing the delicacy of scenes; this is a show that serves you Gossip Girl-esque scandal with the gentle aplomb of an impending disaster.

The song by the incomparable Sufjan Stevens in the title credits is commendable. Also, one does not cast Broadway star Ben Platt and not make him sing. His rendition of Joni Mitchell’s River stays with you long after the first episode is over. A standout episode in this season would be ‘The Voter’ where a general critique of a white, male voter is upheld in ground-breaking ways. There indeed are certain tools employed for story-telling in this show that takes you by surprise — from music to cinematography.

Another subversive subplot to this tale is Infinity (Zoey Deutch) who is asked to be the running mate to Payton with the hope of acquiring pity votes for being afflicted by cancer. But the twist in the tale is offered by Dusty, Infinity’s grandmother played by the indominatable, Jessica Lange. Enjoying freebies in the form of vacations and free meals in restaurants, their life comes crumbling down when a truth of unimaginable proportions is revealed. The show does inadvertently highlight Payton’s need to make the world a better place without actually being invested in the current political system. We can’t wait to see Payton take over the senate, challenging a senator who has been in office for 12 straight years, uncontested (Judith Light). After all, what is a Ryan Murphy show without an air of impossible dystopia and drama in it?