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Courtesy of Netflix

October 15, 2019

From the Creators of ‘American Horror Story,’ Netflix’s ‘The Politician’ is Jam-Packed with Drama

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Anything can be a political statement. In fact, politics has become an integral part of pop culture. The creators of the critically acclaimed shows American Horror Story and Glee, Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, pulled some inspiration from these trends and made fun of political dramas such as Designated Survivor and the West Wing with the release of the highly anticipated new show, The Politician, that debuted on Netflix on Friday, Sept. 27.

The show opens up with the main character, Payton Hobart (Ben Platt), telling a Harvard admissions counselor how he is going to become the President of the United States. His first step on this journey is becoming high school president. Payton treats his high school campaign as if it were a real political campaign. This scene is a contradiction in itself as it is both humorous and frightening, and it sets the tone of the show.

Throughout the series, Murphy and Falchuk play on this whole hero trope that political shows often depict. There’s one designated hero/leader (Payton) who is seen as almost godly and a posse that will do anything to make sure that this narrative remains through often nefarious means (his two best friends and campaign staff: McAfee and James). The utter ruthlessness of the characters emulates popular teen movies from the 90s.

The Politician is jam-packed with drama. In the pilot alone, we witness the suicide of Payton’s opponent/lover, threesomes, Payton purposely choosing a girl with cancer as his running mate in order to win and the normalization of extreme wealth. Oddly enough, there’s a musical number in this first episode — but the creators of this show started Glee, so it’s not too out of place.

Throughout the first season, Payton suffers from not one but two assassination attempts from political rivals in high school. It may appear wacky, but it is an accurate depiction of the 24-hour news cycle centered with politics’ twists and turns.

On the surface, it appears that this show is simply a satirical view of popular political dramas but it is in fact a social commentary. For instance, several characters including Payton’s mother, Georgina (Gwyneth Paltrow), mention that if Payton wants to attend Harvard but can’t get in on his merits alone, they could pay their way in, showing the absurdity that is reality in this fictionalized version of Santa Monica.

Countless subplots take place focusing on characters that are people of color, women and people with disabilities is quite interesting as these are often marginalized groups excluded from political office were definitely more interesting than the main plot of the show. I feel like the inclusion of these characters reflects the opening of non-traditional faces in social activism.

For instance, Payton’s running mate, Infinity Jackson (Zoey Deutsch), had a whole story arc in which she was led to believe she had terminal cancer her whole life by her grandma, Dusty (Jessica Lange), and uses this experience to enact change via her support of Payton. Yes, it’s crazy and seemingly unrealistic, but the acting done by these two actresses showed the depth and range this series has. This plot that made the audience both laugh and cry encapsulates the show as a whole and makes viewers sit on the edge of their seats waiting to see what happens next.

The cinematography of The Politician is visceral and surreal. The majority of the scenes are set in places of opulence like the grand halls of the mansions the characters live in and winding staircases that try to confuse viewers as to what’s fiction and what’s not. These settings continue to emphasize the point that our current political system has become seemingly unattainable for the average citizen, only accessible to the extremely wealthy, an almost new gilded age.

In the final episode “Vienna,” Payton loses his presidential seat due to his toxic ambition coinciding with his loss of financial support from his billionaire father. It seems to reiterate the message that the creators emphasized throughout most of the episodes: only the rich rule. However, in the final scene set three years in the future, we see Payton announce his candidacy for state senator against a 12-term incumbent, and viewers are left with hope.

Portraying the main character as part of Gen Z shows how politics and social justice are being changed by people our age. The final scene of the first season makes a reference to AOC, who also challenged a 10-term incumbent and had little to no political experience. I believe that the creators ended here to give viewers hope that change is in the air.

The Politician, behind all of its wacky layers, provides us with evidence that politics is in our hands.

 

Sarah Bastos is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at smb532@cornell.edu.