Netflix's new series The Politician will feel painfully real for any high school student who went through or is going through college admissions anxiety. Ben Platt's character Payton Hobart isn't based on a real person, but he reflects some very real struggles that today's teens are facing.
In the series, Payton will stop at almost nothing to win high school class president in the hopes that it will look good for his Harvard application. He takes his campaign as seriously as a general election candidate would for US President — and so do all the other students.
In some '80s and '90s movies, high school was often portrayed as a necessary evil, but also a joke (see: any movie by John Hughes). Characters didn't really take it that seriously. The Politician is not that. It accurately reflects how high school has become a demanding time for students hoping to get into good schools and joining every club and activity they can to have well-rounded applications.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Rachel Gordon, a sociology professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago found that today's day high school students have increased anxiety around getting into a top school compared to previous generations. This stress sets younger generations apart from their parents — for whom undergraduate school was not necessarily a necessity or an expectation. Sometimes that stress can even manifest itself into hospitalizations for anxiety, the Tribune reported.
In 2017, Harvard, the school Payton wants to go to on the show, published a piece on admissions anxiety on its website. The article stated that students from more affluent families can sometimes struggle even more with this pressure — as it's often also coming at them from their parents to do the family name proud by getting into a top school. This idea that they have legacies to keep up can be suffocating.
The Politician takes this high school fear and pushes it to its limits. It's a semi-satirical take on the matter. But it also rings pretty true. It's easy to see why Payton and his fellow students take everything so seriously. This is a tough world they're graduating into, and they're all just trying their best to set themselves up for success. The whole system needs changing before that students' anxieties will change.
And, while Payton isn't a real person, The Politician doesn't shy away from satirizing some real people. Infinity Jackson's faking cancer storyline appears to be reference to Gypsy Rose Blanchard's story. Payton's twin brothers attempt to kill their father while outright mentioning that they studied the Menendez brothers murder case as inspiration. Murphy's projects often have real life nods in them and The Politician has characters seemingly inspired by real people, but also themes inspired by real struggles. Payton's journey to get into Harvard may seem intense, but it probably hits home for many a high school student trying to do the very same thing.
In the end, though, The Politician isn't trying to solve the admissions anxiety problem. It's a satirical comedy meant to entertain. But it also highlights such a real problem that, at times, it almost doesn't feel like satire at all.