If it weren’t for pesky things like the demands of my job or the need to sleep and eat, I would have finished all eight episodes of Netflix’s The Politician in a single day. Instead, I binged through the candy-coloured political soap — the first result of Ryan Murphy’s landmark Netflix deal — in about two-and-half days. One would likely assume that means the upcoming streaming series, premiering Friday 27th September, is a perfect show.
Rather, The Politician is the most dizzyingly Ryan Murphy project ever (although, it is actually co-created by Murphy and creative partners Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan). It has more unnecessary-but-beautiful musical numbers than Glee; more scathing teens than Scream Queens; three generations of scenery-chewing iconic blondes (welcome to television, 2019 awards season darling Lucy Boynton), and hot takes galore. Oh, and there is a newcomer hunk who looks like the wide-shouldered love child of Matt Bomer and Henry Cavill.
The Politician is a wild ride that is oftentimes more enamoured with its weirdo detours than its central plot. But if you accept the Ben Platt-starrer’s very American Horror Story-y faults, the series will give you joy in return.
As the name suggests, The Politician follows the origin story of a burgeoning politician: Payton Hobart (Tony-winner Platt), a Santa Barbara high schooler with cutthroat political aspirations and the son of tragic, kept woman Georgina (Gwyneth Paltrow). Although Payton is determined to one day become the president of the United States, he believes he must first win the title of senior class president at his ritzy school, Saint Sebastian. The road to victory seems imminent thanks to Payton’s obsession with success and the crack team he has behind him. Campaign advisor James (Theo Germaine), would-be chief of staff McAfee (Laura Dreyfuss), and pseudo-first-lady Alice (Julia Schlaepfer) are all Murphy characters for the history books. They are demanding, odd, and lovable in different ways. Alice has a tic that careful viewers will become obsessed with.
Together, the Hobart campaign quartet is a bizarro West Wing, all prone to the speechifying and walk-and-talks beloved by Aaron Sorkin’s Emmy-hoarding turn-of-the-century drama. Only here, the politicos are consumed by “the Haitian vote” — a running gag of the season — and currying lunchroom votes instead of running one of the largest nations in the world.
The very fun trick of The Politician is that it never treats the race at San Sebastian as small potatoes. If Payton & Co. don’t care about the series’ central competition, why should we? But, oh do they care. Particularly once-popular boy River enters the election. David Corenswet, who plays River, is the newest brown-haired, blue-eyed dreamboat to enter the Murphyverse, joining the sharp-cheekboned ranks of AHS alums like Bomer, Cheyenne Jackson, Finn Witrock, and Wes Bentley. While most of those Prince Eric lookalikes played sociopaths and villains in Murphy/Falchuck productions, Corenswet is the empathetic and emotional conscience of The Politician.
River’s inherent kind-eyed goodness leaves space for the back-stabbing antics of everyone else at his high school. In fact, it usually necessitates it. It’s the immense electability of jock and unexpected soft boy River that pushes Payton to bring supposedly ill student Infinity Jackson (Zoey Deutch) into the political mix. The entrance of Infinity, along with her scammer grandma Dusty (Jessica Lange), allows Murphy and the team to explore their wildest The Act fantasies — and then some. Sometimes it is impossible not to wonder how The Politician skated around needing to pay Gypsy Rose Blanchard, the murderous inspiration for Emmy-winning The Act and a survivor of her mother Dee Dee’s Munchausen syndrome by proxy, for her life rights. If you wish The Act had more camp and Jessica Lange in animal print, The Politician is exactly what the doctor ordered.
Speaking of camp, few people are more gung-ho about going big than Lucy Boynton as Astrid, the conniving girlfriend of River and his Machiavellian would-be string-puller. It is an absolute delight to see Boynton, who entered our collective consciousness as a prestige ingenue with her Bohemian Rhapsody awards show run, do full Chanel Oberlin/Madison Montgomery drag. If you put Astrid and Emma Roberts’ two most iconic characters together, they may be able to bully the world into their own utopian ideal. The fact that Astrid’s parents are played by January Jones and Dylan McDermott is just the icing on the ice queen sundae.
With all of these characters milling about, it’s obvious The Politician would never be able to stick to its core narrative: the increasingly haywire class election at Saint Sebastian, a school where everyone looks roughly 26. While there is one memorable episode about the actual politics of the election, the series also throws out two instalments more interested in musicals than governance, situations that will remind you of two different Gillian Flynn novels, and whiplash backstabbing that is so circuitous you’ll be left dizzy.
That's why The Politician seems unsure of what it’s actually saying about politics itself — it never really manages to explain why a privileged white man like Payton is also its political messiah. It’s more inclined to explore the core topics of the Murphyverse like sex, betrayal, and women, or queer people speaking impossibly fast in impossibly good clothing.
If you can not only reckon with those facts about The Politician, but love them, this is a show that deserves your vote.
The Politician is available on Netflix from Friday 27th November