The TV series The Politician by Ryan Murphy – who again exploits the aura of his collaboration with Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan – is a satirical melodrama that analyzes the ugliness of making politics and, more broadly, of being a politician.
Netflix launched the show on September 27, 2019, and it tells the story of Payton Hobart (Ben Platt). Payton will sit in the Oval Office one day; he does everything in the right way, leaving nothing to chance. His path to the White House is not a secret, rather a life-long and visible goal.
But no matter his plans, things are going to get messy. Kidnappings, extortions, and suicides pave his road to the presidency, through a visual and narrative style that, by now, has made Murphy’s works a new entire TV genre.
There’s an omnipresent feature in all Murphy’s characters: obsession. In this case, it’s related to politics. In Glee it is singing, in Pose the ball, in Feud the skill, in American Crime Story: The murder of Gianni Versace simply anger. The subjects of these shows appear deliberately dull, always dangerously close to a two-dimensionality and ridicule dimension.
The author’s way of representing them, however, is always different. Obsession for singing, in Glee, doesn’t lead to the gloomy decadence of The Politician‘s protagonist, even if the context is similar: a high school. While, the more serious the situation becomes, the more serious the tightening up is. Similarly, the more corrupted characters become, the more successful they get.
A similarity, in this case, is more visible in a series like House Of Cards. Protagonists resemble each other in their lust for power, which increases the consequences of their actions as the story progresses. Between a dramatic Frank Underwood and an opposite comedic protagonist like Ted Lasso, Payton Hobart stands in the middle as tragicomic. Through kindness and perseverance, he manages to conquer and win all his fights.
The politician himself
“He’s a fake”, meaning false and inauthentic, is something Payton receives as a critique, thanks to the naive but mature acting of Ben Platt. Winner of a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical, Platt is best known for his stage roles on Broadway (but he was also in Pitch Perfect).
Here, in his first leading role for the small screen, the portrait of an ambitious teenager represents a need: becoming a leader. In fact, in the story’s development, he finds out he can lead nobody. Every season he experiences a small failure and learns something.
The first challenge he has to overcome is becoming president of the student council, at Saint Sebastian High School. Payton’s world also includes his adoptive mother Georgina (Gwyneth Paltrow), an unshakable source of love and support, and two step-brothers, Martin, and Luther (Trey & Trevor Eason), who instead despise him.
Dusty Jackson (Jessica Lange), a deeply strange and bizarre woman, exploits the disease of her niece Infinity, (Zoey Deutch). She’s Payton’s schoolmate and will become his asset for political purposes. Astrid Sloan (Lucy Boynton), on the other hand, is Payton’s best friend girlfriend, while River (David Corenswet), stands out as Payton’s fierce rival at school.
In the second season, Payton’s race continues. This time, the story focuses on his way to the Senate of the State of New York against the incumbent senator Dede Standish (Judith Light). She’s led by the trusty campaign manager Hadassah Gold (Bette Midler). This political war will highlight differences in communication and strategy between the two candidates.
Murphy’s Camp style
In an Emily Nussbaum‘s interview for The New Yorker, Murphy says he hates the term camp to define his aesthetics. Camp is a term that dates back to the sixties and the vogue era. It designates, approximately, «the deliberate use of kitsch in art».
Considering it abused, Murphy suggests a change from camp to baroque, which also aims at symbolic opulence. In other of Murphy’s series like Scream Queens, American Crime Story, and the same Politician, representation of luxury and excess of money are the core of the story. But according to the author, he always prefers to represent his «maximalist approach».
The Politician is a slight metrosexual triumph that mixes Glee’s atmospheres and House of Cards‘ machinations. A rewarding result in blending big names and fetishism for everything that makes politics a dirty game.