THE POLITICIAN DIFFICULT TO ENDORSE
What some folks wouldn’t give to have the instincts — to say nothing of the timing — of television impresario Ryan Murphy.
His knack for anticipating the zeitgeist is matched by an entertaining talent for owning the obvious — horror-movie tropes, pickedover scandals, sinister sororities or even the showy emotions that provide the fantasy fuel for genderbending dance competitions and knives-out glee club concerts.
All Murphy has to do these days is merely confirm his next big project and the world halts briefly on its axis to again admire his moxie. (Beanie Feldstein as Monica Lewinsky in the next American Crime Story — why, it’s brilliant already, and no one will even see it for another year. Insert a row of exclamation points here. Heck, insert another row.)
His secret, I think, is just to let go and let the idea run wild, roughshod if necessary, with whatever borrowed styles and pop-cultural references will get the job done. Let other producers and writers rooms fret about whether an idea is too pat or too over the top. In Murphy’s world, the audience and critics will either eventually come around (witness Billy Porter’s lead actor triumph at the Emmys last month for Murphy’s FX drama Pose) or, at minimum, applaud the effort. That’s why it’s such a big deal that Murphy and his collaborators have moved operations to Netflix, pushing their new ideas forward while still tending to the valuable franchises (American Horror Story, 9-1-1) they created at FX and Fox.
The Politician, a darkly comic, eight-episode drama about a kid (Broadway star Ben Platt) convinced of his destiny to become U.S. president, firmly plants Murphy’s flag on Netflix’s moneyed turf.
Co-created by two of Murphy’s most trusted collaborators (Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan), the series is a deeply cynical and unfortunately supercilious restating of an old Washington cliche, that politics is really just high school and vice versa.
The tone and look of the series feel at first like a heavy aping, bordering on theft, of film director Wes Anderson’s fascination with preternaturally gifted teen ambition, a la Rushmore, and one-percenter ennui, a la The Royal Tenenbaums. (For an echo effect, Murphy has roped one of those Tenenbaums, Gwyneth Paltrow, into playing the young politician’s doting mother.)
A dog-piling of other influences seem to come and go: Heathers, Clueless, Election, one or two Bret Easton Ellis novels, the original version of House of Cards and the callousness of Veep, for starters. Somehow, it’s all in here, a mash-up of deadpan vibes and manic melodrama made brighter and prettier: all the best parts, underlined to death. The result is both irritating and fun, a feeling that has become something of a Murphy hallmark.
Gwyneth Paltrow plays Ben Platt’s onscreen mother in Ryan Murphy’s new series, The Politician.