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Monday, 25 of March of 2019

Political Animals – “Pilot”

[In Russian] “I will f— your shit up.”

After Dallas squandered my interest by becoming oh-so-very boring (the worst possible thing that can happen to any show, but I feel it’s especially deadly to soapy series), I was pleased that Political Animals stepped up and said, “Oh, you’re unhappy with the other guy? Well, why not vote for us?”

Cast of Political Animals

Who are the Ewings…?

Happily, I will strain this political metaphor to a breaking point: Political Animals isn’t as pitch-perfect as I was hoping, but I’m not disillusioned, and nor do I think it’s an empty suit. It’s not the Tim Pawlenty of my summer TV season (that would probably be  Perception), but if I could liken it to any candidate in recent memory, it’s likely Howard Dean. It’s big, loud, charming, prone to mistakes but not backing off from them, and is likely not to get very far (ratings weren’t great).

But I don’t care, because I really like it. 

So this will be kind of gushy, kind of nitpicky, with your standard big picture evaluative stuff. Next week I’ll start engaging the show a bit more. I promise. And a lot of this is motivated by brief discussions on Twitter and Facebook with @_mesk and Charlotte (@cehowell6), so thanks to them for helping with some basic plot fleshing, particularly Charlotte’s contributions in the Facebook discussion.

Charlotte’s big trigger was comparing Political Animals to The Good Wife (a show we both adore), and it’s a comparison that I find apt in delineating what I love and didn’t love about the show. I told Charlotte that while I didn’t want to use the term “flashier,” I do think that, on the whole, Political Animals is less contemplative and subtle compared to Good Wife.  This is not a complaint, just a comparison. While I think Political Animals offers those things (almost entirely through Weaver’s performance, whether it be watching Craig Ferguson or laughing in the van after leaving Bud behind in the rinky-dinky motel), I don’t always need or want those things.

Instead it offers those moments between family blow-ups, sex (oy), and Elaine getting to say wonderful things, things any of us would like to say to those in power. Charlotte also linked this series to Newsroom as this one being a “way better fictionalized reality,” and based on my only pilot-viewing of Sorkin’s latest, I would agree. If there’s a soap-boxy stand on Political Animals, it’s Elaine telling Garcetti that she’d like to be working for the man who beat her, not the man who he’s become in office, a comment no doubt uttered (or gone unsaid, but thought) by many of President Obama’s supporters (up until campaign mode kicked in).

And since it’s a brief zinger, it stands in contrasts to Sorkin’s mile-high soap boxes that border on the pathological (and given Newsroom‘s icky story approach of saying, “NO! This is how you should’ve reported it!”, over-entitled) and can leave you feeling bad for having the opinion in the first place (not Sorkin’s intention). There’s an elegance to Elaine’s quick upbraiding of Garcetti that expresses disappointment and hope, not just cynical finger-wagging.

So, yes, the political stuff largely works. It’s not completely believable, but I’m not expecting that either. The family plotlines invite more comparisons to Good Wife, but I kind of want to sit on those for a bit since, the family aspects are where things kind of get a little wobbly for me. Anne’s eating disorder is a frustrating thing for me since it largely defines her character. She’s the fiancée with an eating disorder. I know nothing else about her. That’s less than ideal.

But my main problem circulates on Bud. Ciarán Hinds is an immensely talented actor, but between his syrupy southern accent and the increasingly cornball writing, his presence became increasingly distracting (his scenes with Weaver, as @_mesk notes help mitigate these problems). I dig his overwhelming ego, and how Elaine struggles to assert herself against it and reconcile the fact that she still has feelings for this man, but it all just feels cartoon-y (in the most derogatory way possible, and those of you who know me, know I don’t use that lightly).

Despite these issues though (and the rather stock notion of a gay son with a drug problem and a drunk senior citizen), I’m still drawn to the show. Weaver’s performance even in this pilot is too good, and even if the show was borderline horrible, I suspect she’d manage to hold the thing together through sheer force of will (the same way I feel about Idris Elba and Luther). I don’t think that Carla Gugino has been better in a while than she is here (admittedly I haven’t seen any of her recent TV stints), and her scenes with Weaver really crackle.

I’m sold for a while on Political Animals as a summer, soapy delight (which I think is all it will ever be), and I’m definitely eager for next week.

FINAL THOUGHTS

  • More Dylan Baker, please.
  • At least Political Animals and Newsroom can agree that bloggers are just the worst and are killing Journalism.
  • Sigh. Elaine should not be sitting in the front of the car. With the windows down. Just. No. On the flip side of that, I do love the knowing looks that pass between the Secret Service guys. “Politicians. Crazy mofos.”
  • I’ll be switching off Breaking Bad duties with Nick, so on weeks when I cover Breaking BadPolitical Animals may appear a little later in the week.
  • Full disclosure to that metaphor before the jump: My first campaign donation ever was to Dean’s primary campaign in 2008.

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