USA network’s six-part series, Political Animals, has just about all the pieces you could hope for. Creator Greg Berlanti is perhaps slightly out of his element, as most will know him from things like Dawson’s Creek, Everwood, and short-lived efforts, Eli Stone and No Ordinary Family (well, and possibly Green Lantern and Wrath of the Titans). It isn’t a resume that leads one to suspect that a politically-charged drama unfolding in the White House is a clear next step, but he’s put together television that people have managed to enjoy.
Now throw in Sigourney Weaver as the prime star, and a nice collection of supporters (including Ellen Burstyn, the always interesting Carla Gugino, and the charismatic James Wolk, just to name a few), and add the fact that it’s a drama-filled walk through a White House with an ex-First Lady serving as Secretary of State, and it would be difficult to imagine not betting on this one.
This is a nice example of how Vegas works.
The show opens with Elaine Barrish (Weaver) losing the primary election in her bid for the Presidency. She’s married to former President Bud Hammond, and as soon as she loses, she tells him she wants a divorce. We fast-forward two years, and Elaine is now Secretary of State, serving under the man who beat her in that primary. Our zip in time finds us (and Elaine) smack in the middle of a press interview with veteran (apparently) White House correspondent, Susan Berg (Carla Gugino). Here we get a lot of the background, as Susan attempts to take Elaine to task for her decision to divorce her husband on the very night she lost the election. It seems her ex-husband was notably… adulterous, which makes the timing suspicious, especially considering the shift in public opinion that made her a great choice for the position she’s landed now.
Now Elaine has to deal with her ex-husband, her two sons (one of whom has made splashes in the headlines because he’s not only openly homosexual, but has drugs problems), the reporter who may or may not be letting things leak that she shouldn’t, and if she has time, there are certain duties the Secretary of State is meant to manage as well.
Ahh… like sands through the hourglass…
The show reminds greatly of ABC‘s recent foray into the ridiculous, Scandal. Both shows are apparently built using the same curious belief system. It is one in which laughably contrived (and yes, I see the irony in that) situations and dialogue somehow become “good” based only on the intense seriousness with which they are delivered. Here is an effort at story construction that isn’t clear why the good shows receive critical acclaim, but has noticed that people speak very seriously in a lot of them. The script is just so much recycling material in some state of limbo, and any lines are as worthwhile as any others, it’s the fact that the director says, “Now say it really seriously,” that makes the thing.
It is also a creative theory that holds that character development is simply a process in which characters are continuously met with situations, and when we watch them react, they are “developed” and “rich.” A concept that is actually not without a fair amount of merit. Unfortunately, it comes through in Political Animals, with all the insight and intelligence of people acting serious just for the sake of acting serious. Reacting unbelievably to a bombardment of situations that have daytime soaps averting their eyes and attempting to inch nonchalantly for the door does not take advantage of the theory. Nor does the idea that since watching reactions to five situations is supposed to be good, 50 must be awesome.
Of course, Scandal did pretty well, and H.L. Mencken has already made the only statement we need on underestimating the intelligence of the masses. You’d like to get behind a show that proposes to be about a “powerful woman,” but Political Animals seems to have some strange ideas about who such a person might be, and how they became powerful. It doesn’t seem like you want to say that said powerful woman got where she is just because she was married to the President, but the show makes it difficult to ferret out what qualities might be in play beyond being in the right place at the right time, unless it’s a penchant for saying rather silly things with an extremely serious demeanor. Thus, it all somehow comes full circle.
It has a pretty big budget, is in some sense mostly boring (that is, it’s really just people sitting around talking), has a recognizable name as its showpiece, and no one could act like they were more serious at any time. Thus, critics are going to love it, and audiences will manage a certain sense of superiority when the drop the name as being a show they love. These, so the theory goes, are the only ingredients for “good” television. And, apparently, successful women.
Watch the full first episode right here.
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From creator Greg Berlanti, POLITICAL ANIMALS marks USA Network’s most ambitious project to date. The six-week limited series event – premiering on Sunday, July 15 at 10/9c – pulls back the curtain on the polished facade of politics to reveal a fractured family. Despite intense public scrutiny, this dynasty cannot escape the magnetic pull of the high stakes world of sex, greed and politics.
In her first television series regular role, two-time Golden Globe® winner and three-time Academy Award® nominee Sigourney Weaver stars as Secretary of State Elaine Barrish. In the wake of a divorce from her philandering ex-president husband Bud Hammond (Ciarán Hinds), Elaine tries to keep her family together while dealing with crises of the State Department and hungry D.C. journalist Susan Berg (Carla Gugino) who is bent on destroying her. Giving viewers access into the seemingly perfect world of America’s royal dynasty, POLITICAL ANIMALS uncovers a family that is flawed, vulnerable and human. Fueled by their own ambition, they are entangled in the provocative, nuanced and complex web of politics.
Oscar®, Emmy®, Tony® and Golden Globe® winner Ellen Burstyn stars as Elaine’s mother Margaret, a one-time Vegas showgirl whose biting tongue and sharp wit keep her daughter’s ego in check. James Wolk and Sebastian Stan star as former first sons – twin brothers Douglas and T.J. – one her chief of staff with political aspirations, the other a lost soul battling addiction. Brittany Ishibashi stars as Douglas’ fiancée Anne, who struggles with the harsh reality of joining a very public family.
The series recurring guest stars include Adrian Pasdar as the current President; Dylan Baker as Vice President; Roger Bart as the President’s Chief of Staff; Academy Award® nominee Dan Futterman as political editor of the fictional Washington Globe; and Linda Powell as the President’s National Security Advisor. Oscar®, Emmy®, Tony® and Golden Globe® winner Vanessa Redgrave guest stars as a lesbian Supreme Court justice with close ties to Elaine. Academy Award®–winning costume designer Ann Roth designed Weaver’s wardrobe for the pilot.