One of the most recent series exclusive to Netflix, The Politician has some real bright spots in what it represents in modern politics and how watchable it is, when the story doesn’t sink under the weight of some unnecessary experimental elements and poor acting.
*This review does contain some spoilers*
From my experience so far, the shows made exclusively for Netflix have been a mixed bag. The Politician probably has the most experimental elements in any I have seen so far. As with most shows that have these, it is at its best when it utilises them in a way that improves the quality of the storytelling and characterisation. It makes sense to do this with a show that feels very contemporary in its topic and cinematography. The stand out example of this is Episode 5, focusing solely on a single student and their struggle to get through the day the school elects their Student Body President without being pestered all of the time. It is a shorter episode which, though gets repetitive towards the end, is genuinely funny and feels like it adds to the world that Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan have created. Another experimental episode is the season finale; I don’t think it is as good, mostly because it jumps forward a few years from previous episodes and focuses on answering too many questions, as well as being obvious in trying to set up a second season.
This jumping quality is evident between every episode, where there are changes in narrative, perspective and humour. This means that weaker episodes don’t have much to stand up on. The best example of this is in the two-parter “The Assassination of Payton Hobart”, which focuses on the… protagonist? (more on that later) facing a plot to take his life by those who he has scorned in the past. The first half feels more like an episode of Glee (another Ryan Murphy show), with Payton auditioning for the lead role in the school musical and succeeding down to actor Ben Platt’s brilliant voice, before getting seriously poisoned by contaminated BB pellets. The second half deals with the fallout of this as well as feeling like the true season finale, as all of Payton’s secrets come out into the open. Some parts feel decent, like the scenes with the always excellent Gwyneth Paltrow as Payton’s mother. However, this episode also contains some of the worst acting I have seen in a while, moments that feel too out there amongst the emotional parts and thus completely derails what positives the episode had. This makes the decision to jump forward in time for the season finale all the more alienating for the audience.
Let’s talk about the representation of the characters, which is one of the most interesting aspects of this show. Payton Hobart is played as a typical narcissist, a person who has remorse and morals but completely go out of the window when he can see a way to better his reputation and chance of being elected as Body President. In nearly every other high school drama, he would be the antagonist, someone who you would really want the main character to foil. So why does it feel like that he is the most likeable person in the whole cast? His running mate was being lied to for years but you don’t feel sorry for her because of her childlike attention seeking. Other characters range from being cold to scheming to downright evil, bar one character who is likeable but doesn’t stick around for long. I think that having the protagonist as the lesser evil does make him likeable in some weird way and it also makes the show feel quite easy to watch because watching unpleasant people makes us feel better about our own personalities and faults.
As of November 2019, nearly two months after The Politician has aired, there has been no word yet from Netflix on whether a second season will be commissioned. I think that there is potential in what the show represents, a way to highlight the corruption and inequality that exists in all forms of politics, from the top in the Senate, right to the bottom of the ladder and an election in a High School for the new Student Body President. I hope that they get rid of the unnecessary experimental elements; at times it sunk the quality of an episode and didn’t actually add a great deal to what was going on, except to throw viewers. If there is a second season, then I think that I would watch it purely for its uniqueness and how relevant it is to today’s times.