By Esther Morales
Netflix’s new comedy-drama “The Politician” debuted on Sept. 27, and has since generated buzz across social media platforms.
Created by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan, the show’s first season follows Payton Hobart (Ben Platt), a tenacious, self-motivated and sometimes egotistical teen who is determined to become the president of the United States. But first, he must tackle the student body president election at his high school in Santa Barbara, California.
Right from the jump, the show presents a darker plotline when River Barkley (David Corenswet), who is both Payton’s love interest and running opponent, dies by suicide.
The show is Platt’s first television lead role, and he truly provides an outstanding performance. Platt plays the role of not just an overly ambitious teen, but also someone who struggles with vulnerability and wrestles between success and being a good person.
Sadly, Platt is the show’s only redeeming factor. Having only appeared in the “Pitch Perfect” movie franchise and on Broadway in his breakout role in “Dear Evan Hansen,” Platt proves his versatility through carrying the whole television show on his back. What makes Platt’s performance superior is the complexity he brings to Payton. The scenes that stand out are Payton’s interactions with River in flashbacks before his death, where he imagines that he is there with him after. Through Payton’s confiding, Platt is able to give the character a depth and portray his hidden emotional turmoil, drawing out not only a more genuine persona not seen before, but also an emotional response from the audience.
The show does a good job of keeping the story interesting and relevant in the aftermath of River’s death, but somewhere towards the middle of the season, it falls off completely.
The show is riddled a seemingly impossible amount of controversy squeezed into subplots, including an almost exact Gypsy Rose Blanchard-esque character, a staged kidnapping, several affairs, another suicide attempt and an assassination attempt against Payton.
The show also seems to be an attempt at a satirical look at political elections, but weaves in very heavy topics that make you confused about whether you should be laughing or empathizing with characters.
As I was binge-watching this show, I remember how excited I was after the first episode, but around the sixth episode, my interest quickly diminished. The problems arise a lot in excess of supporting characters, all of whom deliver less-than-stellar performances in their one-dimensional roles. McAfee Westbrook (Laura Dreyfuss), is a straight-shooting campaign manager and friend to Payton. Dreyfuss fails to give the role any depth, even when her character is keeping a secret that could be detrimental to Payton’s campaign. She also lacks chemistry with the other actors, including her own love interest.
The sole purpose of Payton’s campaign “posse” is to support him from beginning to end. The show quickly dismisses any interesting subplots that are not directly related to Payton and his campaign without any real resolution, even when his best friend, James Sullivan (Theo Germaine), falls in love and has an affair with Payton’s girlfriend.
That being said, I’d love any excuse to hear Platt’s angelic voice sing as much as the next person, but he performs three full-length songs that were truly unnecessary to the plot. The show even went as far as to add a new subplot amid all the chaos where Payton joins the school’s musical theater, clearly as a wink to Platt’s theatre career.
Though I tried to ignore it for as long as I could, I can’t pretend that all of the 25-year-old actors playing 18-year-olds are believable either. The casting could have been done much better by getting younger actors, or at least ones who could pass as teenagers.
If you’re looking for something to watch that has satisfying story wrap-ups and makes 100 percent sense, this probably isn’t that show. However, I’m curious and invested enough to wonder what other outlandish things will take place if there’s a season 2.