It's only appropriate that we prepare for the upcoming election year by watching a comedy drama about… an election… well, a high school election… but it is taken almost as seriously, if not more seriously than our upcoming presidential election. Ryan Murphy’s “The Politician” dropped on Netflix Sept. 27, and may be the most stunning, overdramatic, enthralling soap box-level tv series yet.
The show opens with high school senior, Payton Hobart telling a Harvard admissions officer his dreams of becoming the president of the United States, and he is trying to do everything in his power to launch him into that house on Pennsylvania Avenue. This, of course, includes winning student body president at his high school. The entire series follows his student body presidential campaign, from announcing, to picking a problematic vice presidential candidate and the elections themselves. Like every campaign, there is a heavy dose of scandal and blackmailing, but Payton is kept on track with the help of his questionably driven campaign staff, adoptive mother and the spirit of his first love.
The series deals with overarching themes of power struggles, identity, sexuality and values in a seemingly utopian world that viewers quickly see is turned on its head behind closed doors. Issues of sexual orientation and gender are never discussed, but instead are just treated like regular relationships. There is no big coming out scene, or parents crying over their child being gay. Everyone is who they are, and there are zero questions about that aspect of their lives. Now, whether or not someone is faking cancer for monetary gain? That deservedly gets a respected amount of questioning.
Broadway and screen favorite, Ben Platt, stars as Payton, and he has “Pitch Perfect” and theater fans everywhere screaming his praises. There is something exquisite about Broadway level acting in tv dramas. Platt fills every frame with sincerity, and unbelievable likability. Payton does several questionable acts throughout the series, but through it all you can’t help but root for him. While we all love to hear Platt’s transcendent voice croon over Joni Mitchell and Sondheim, both of the musical numbers in the series seemed a tad forced. It does not totally make sense why Platt’s character, who is hell bent on his political ambitions, decides to make time for the school musical. It felt like more of a Ben-ism than a Payton-ism, and that they just wanted to use every ounce of his talents. Again, I’ll never complain about hearing Ben Platt sing, but this just wasn’t the right time.
Something the creative team most definitely polled well on was the costuming. The series is set in present day Santa Barbara, California, in the wealthiest school, where fashion is clearly at the forefront. Payton’s campaign manager, McAphee Westbrook (Laura Dreyfuss) consistently stuns in pant suits of all kinds, perhaps tipping a hat to Hilary Clinton’s wardrobe staple. Alice Charles (Julia Schlaepfer), Payton’s power-hungry girlfriend, is Jackie O, 2.0, and the costuming department accentuates this by having her constantly in early ‘60s fashion, such as pencil skirts, loads of matching sweater and blouse combinations, and of course, pearls. The scenic and costuming departments worked together to create some of the most aesthetically pleasing scenes in Netflix history with a good use of vibrant jewel tones and some classic decade throwbacks. Be careful, you might find yourself browsing through online stores for a pantsuit or a mock turtleneck or two following your binge-watching.
Did the series feel contrived at times? Yes. Were there unnecessary music numbers? Yes. Did the plot resemble Platt’s previous gig, “Dear Evan Hansen,” a little too much at times? Absolutely. But is it worth spending eight hours of your life binge-watching? Let’s just say I don’t regret a thing.