Minor Spoilers for ‘The Politician’ Season Two
Following the long tradition of Ryan Murphy TV shows, The Politician season two is utterly bat-sh*t insane. There is no better or more accurate way to describe a season of a show in which a polyamorous throuple, the psychology behind Rock-Paper-Scissors, and spicy lube all play vital roles. The writing is totally engaging and gripping, with the short seven episode season going by in a flash, yet it completely falls apart when you sit to think for more than a minute about it.
This second season follows on directly from the end of the first, as we follow Payton Hobart’s (Ben Platt) campaign to unseat New York state senate veteran Dede Standish (Judith Light). Him and his team, carrying over from his High-School campaign, are constantly facing off against Standish and her shrewd campaign manager Hadassah Gold (Bette Midler). Things escalate from one crisis to the next, all culminating with a vital step in the ambitious Payton’s lifelong dream of becoming the President.
Fans of the series have been eager since Netflix announced the release date just over a month ago, only eight short months after the release of season one. There were no trailers, very little plot details bar what was clearly set up in the final episode of season one, and nine months is a shockingly short turnaround between seasons. This continued when the Netflix original released its first-look trailer just a week before the season dropped, alongside the first images of the latest episodes to be released at all. All of this lead us to believe one of two things was happening. One: the show was set to be buried for some unknown reason. This was very unlikely considering Netflix’s relationship with Ryan Murphy, the first season’s success, and him all-but confirming season three. Or two: due to the lightning-fast production, the show was so horrifyingly bad that they hoped to slip it under the radar with little fanfare.
Thankfully, it appears that neither was the case; just the latest result of Netflix’s baffling marketing strategy, with some poor intern at one point seemingly realizing, ” sh*t isn’t this out next week?” This second season is nowhere near bad enough for the streaming behemoth to try and bury it. If anything, it’s actually pretty good at points. This does, however, shine a real light on what The Politician is above all else: messy as all hell. The marketing has been messy. You can easily bet the production was messy to turn it around as quickly as they did. Finally, the show itself – thematically, plotwise, and in direction, is messy.
When describing The Politician as travelling from “one crisis to the next”, this is in the most literal sense. In an exhausting fashion, there is never really any overarching narrative outside of Payton’s run for state senate. The show genuinely just jumps from one big reveal to the next. This is not to say that it isn’t totally effective though. Every time you begin to feel drawn out, either someone comes out of a coma or a double-pregnancy revives the engagement of it all. This is a highly effective way of forming riveting television, but it totally limits the show. You could never really describe it as more than just a bit of dumb fun, because the series never tries to be more than that.
The themes of The Politician‘s second season are totally half-arsed and in a time so politically turbulent within the US, the lack of care taken to truly utilize concepts is obvious. Just as with its lead character, the season never attempts to engage with the complex morality of politics, but just feigns an attempt in order to say it did. The show’s most fascinating subplot of season one surrounding Payton’s sexuality is totally abandoned, along with the capacity to elevate this show above the schlocky but misguided romps Ryan Murphy is becoming known for.
The final episode of season one set up a fascinating character arc for Payton, displaying him as an alcoholic who realized the emptiness of politics, and without his dream he was left with nothing. How does the show continue with this? They mention once that he’s a few months sober and… that’s it. Episode five titled “The Voters” is by far the most compelling due to the narrative shifting completely away from Payton and the main cast. The whole episode presents a far more interesting struggle than the rest of the season. Part of this stems from the creative fear to truly engage with any of the deeper themes touched upon in the show.
Despite all this, there is one undeniable fact: the acting on display in season two is good. Ben Platt is fantastic as Payton and manages to draw sympathy while playing a character written to be so unredeemable. Despite his character written to be so one-track and caricature-like, Platt totally shines through. The supporting cast is also fantastic, particularly Bette Midler’s straight-talking political operator Hadassah who steals every scene she appears in.
All benefit massively from the time jump between seasons, as we no longer have to buy in a cast of 20-somethings as large overgrown teenagers. This age-appropriate nature truly becomes the show’s strength – as it shows the real struggle of people in their early to mid-20s trying to be taken seriously in politics. While never really sticking the landing, this is the closest thing to a coherent underlying theme in the season, and the cast are a core part of this.
When discussing the cast, it’s impossible to avoid how underutilized both Zoey Deutch and Sing Street alum Lucy Boynton are. It’s never really explained why Boynton’s Astrid is still around, and this is reflected in the scramble to find something to give her character to do. Even when they do and interest begins to grow, the plot is sidelined in favor of spicy lube and long rants on native leader Geronimo. Boynton’s line delivery is cutting as ever and she stands out whenever she’s given something to do. Deutch doesn’t feature much despite a large role in season one, likely because of prior commitments due to her explosion as an actor in the last year. Again, her character really isn’t given much to do and feels like a totally different person than what we have seen before
Overall, the cast is fantastic and save the below-par writing with outstanding performances. The costumes are brilliant, and this show still has the most cinematic intro in all of TV – which perfectly sets up each episode and says more thematically about Payton in thirty seconds than the show has managed in two full seasons.
With a third season seemingly inevitable based on quotes from Murphy, fans cannot help but feel fairly split about the whole thing. You are left changing your mind as to whether this be one of your favorite recent Netflix originals or a pile of hot garbage. Unfortunately, there will be no catchy headline declaring either of these two extremes. It isn’t the best show of the year, but it will be far from the worst – let alone the worst Ryan Murphy show of the year.
Without a doubt flawed, but for every negative quality there are just as many loads of fun. Stellar acting is complimented by garnishing costumes and an utterly absurd plot. In many ways, it never sticks the landing, but I promise you that if you put this on, you won’t be able to look away until it’s over.