Review: In expansive second season 'The Politican' gets my vote
Courtesy of Netflix
Hard to believe with everything going on in the world that, yes, 2020 is still a presidential election year, and the release of the second season of Ryan Murphy’s “The Politician” couldn’t have arrived at a more opportune moment. And this time it’s not about high school, but who will win the Albany state senate election?
The first season was a politically charged satire on the election system that saw a peppy and spoiled Payton Hobart (Ben Platt) elected student body president. The show picks up three years later as he attempts to become a state senator and I’d argue this seven episode second season fixes some crucial errors from the first season - notably the actors not being remotely close in age to their high school counterparts - and does a solid job at expanding the world of “The Politician” in a fun and nuanced way.
Payton - still donning expensive and well tailored suits - is now a fast-talking 22-year-old attempting to dethrone 30 year incumbent, Dede Standish (Judith Light) for a seat in the state senate. At nearly every turn, Payton is underestimated by Dede and her second-in-command Hadassah Gold (Bette Midler - the MVP of this season), as he rallies his young troops on a platform of climate change and registers hundreds of young people to vote for the first time.
Murphy is wise to take “The Politician” in this direction, as it allows the series to explore real issues and doesn’t keep it confined to high school melodrama (though, like the first season, there’s still plenty of that to go around). The show excels at making fun of the broken election cycle and how easy it is to tamper results and sway undecided voters. In this season, the show tackles everything from “woke” and “cancelled” culture to a scandal involving cultural appropriation of Native Americans (Payton dressed up as a Comanche Indian when he was six years old). Obviously, that last one isn’t as funny as the writers would hope, but the series never exploits these topics and presents them in the lens of satire.
Naturally, as Payton climbs the congressional ranks, it gives other series regulars less to do: which is a bummer considering high-school running mate Infinity (Zoey Deutch) was a bright spot last season. The same goes for Payton’s strange mother, Georgina (Gwyneth Paltrow - also a director this season) whose subplot involves a run for Governor of California which, like our current sitting president, suggests some radical ideas for the state, like breaking from the union and becoming its own country.
These minor side quests are the crutch that holds “The Politician” back from being must-see television. Murphy can’t help but jampack over a dozen characters onto the screen in the hopes a few of them resonate and it’s the biggest downfall because it’s tough to keep track of everyone. I’m still not sure why this series has such an expensive price tag, and, look, we all know Ben Platt is a gifted singer, but why does this show HAVE to write a scene just so he can belt a song? I like a good ballad as much as the next guy, but in each instance it seemed like an unnecessary inclusion. You gotta love that signature Ryan Murphy feel.
Still, “The Politician” gets plenty of mileage from all the political backstabbing that goes on behind the scenes, and the witty snuff pieces designed to hinder the other candidate. Platt and Light have more than a few shakedowns together and their banter alone is enough to elevate this season, plus Bette Midler hasn’t been this comical on screen in over a decade. If you’re still undecided on the prospects of this series, I’d hop on the bandwagon now, because I believe with the inevitable third season, the best is yet to come.
All episodes of THE POLITICIAN season two are streaming now on NETFLIX