It’s really a bit much
The Politician is back for another run, but the snarky attacks get tiresome
Last year’s polling data on the first season of Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan’s Netflix series The Politician came back somewhat mixed, as it should have. This cynically satirical series, which charts the political rise-fall-rise cycle of an overconfident young man named Payton Hobart (Ben Platt) takes an all-too-easy theme (politics is corrupt) and stretches it well past its usefulness or comic potential.
Owing its tone and stylistic approach to a chaotic blending of Wes Anderson, Tracy Flick and Selina Meyer (and speaking in Murphy and company’s native tongue of speed-sass), The Politician has apparently ignored some of the voters’ feedback on season 1.
The show needs fewer characters but has instead added more in season 2, which is now streaming. Rather than sharpen its cleverest ideas, it unleashes several more half-thought scandalous subplots.
It’s possible to watch The Politician and not know whether its take on politics is meant to be meaningful and relevant or — and this may be the better way to enjoy it — completely and coldly meaningless.
Let us fall back, then, to the show’s only sure defence: It’s a comedy. In that regard, there are plenty of campy pleasures here. After Peyton’s high school political career ended in tatters, he landed at New York University at the end of season 1, happily apolitical until his toadies (Laura Dreyfuss and Theo Germaine) convinced him to run against an incumbent state senator, Dede Standish (Judith Light). The second season picks up there.
There’s no understating the way Light’s presence (along with Bette Midler as Hadassah Gold, Dede’s conniving chief of staff ) lifts The Politician. Payton and his advisers immediately take to New York-style dirty politics, upsetting Dede’s ambitions to join a Texas senator’s presidential ticket.
But everything that first seemed smart, snarky and on-point about The Politician begins to wear thin; the jokes that it makes — as well as the contemporary real-life debacles it lampoons — are too easily made.
As with last season, The Politician is at its best in an episode about the actual voters who exist far outside of the campaign war rooms. Last season, The Voter was a deeply apolitical teenage boy who cared little for the school election battles around him.
This season, The Voter episode smartly zeros in on the
“OK boomer” divide shaping up between generation Z voters and their elders.
When at last the show seems exhausted by its own shenanigans, it finds a way to put Platt (the Broadway musical star) behind a barroom piano and have him showtune his lungs out. Moments of reflection and reckoning are too little, too late; they’re also the show’s clumsiest scenes.
The Washington Post
Ben Platt plays Payton Hobart in The Politician, a political satire that has grown to be chaotic in its second season.