The Politician

Ben Platt stars as an ambitious, soulless young man who stops at nothing to become Student Body President.

“The Politician is a comedy about moxie. ambition, and getting what you want at all costs. But for those who struggle with their mental health, some elements may be disturbing. Viewer discretion is advised” -opening title.

A new drama from Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Ian Brennan is always noteworthy and The Politician begins this week on Netflix.

If Popular (1999) and House of Cards had a love child it would look something like The Politician. It is full of fierce and often cold characters who represent a society out for themselves.

The central character is Payton Hobart (Ben Platt), a rich kid from Santa Barbara, California, who has had a dream since the age of 7 of becoming President. He’s studied biographies on every President since Reagan -the ‘original TV president’ he insists.

To achieve his dream first rung on the ladder is student body president at Saint Sebastian High School but standing in his way is friendly rival and tutor River (David Corenswet).

“Do not screw with my drama. I’m on a singular path,” he declares.

“I will win at all costs. I know what my future is going to be and I know how to get there. And I will not be stopped.”

Assisting him are class strategists James (Theo Germaine), McAfee (Laura Dreyfuss) and girlfriend Alice (Julia Schlaepfer) who is sometimes dressed in Jacki O pink. They are all ready for the jetstream power rise, pumped with ruthless tactics and bitchy lines.

River is also adopted by Georgina (Gwyneth Paltrow) who has two prized twins -both of whom were fastracked to Harvard courtesy of a friendly parental bribe- and is determined to be accepted authentically. Georgina spends much of her time painting, gardening and suitably looking the part.

Yet for all Payton’s ambitions he is aware that he is at risk of lacking true depth.

“What if all I can do is pretend to feel?” he asks.

“Does it matter if you can’t tell the difference?” Georgina replies.

Payton struggles to find a running mate to soften his image, and turns to a student with cancer, Infinity (Zoey Deutch) whose grandmother (Jessica Lange) is possibly the most conniving of all.

Meanwhile an incident will cause a great upset to the school community but Payton seizes upon it as an opportunity.

Wrapped up in social media manipulation, sexuality and narcissism, this whirlwind and microcosm is a desperate but biting comment on American politics. Are we to assume this is what it might take to topple Trump, or to become Trump-like? And do we get the politics we deserve?

Ben Platt (A Book of Mormon star who also gets to sing here) is charged with portraying an unlikeable lead. This he does in spades. But be careful what you wish for. A  cast of vacuous characters will only take us so far and the race for student President is not one that’s likely to be commonly appreciated on shores so far…

That said, Murphy does have form with some high-flying TV drama and some that came crashing to Earth. At this early juncture, The Politician gets the benefit of the doubt.

The Politician begins Friday on Netflix.

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