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We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

TV Series Review

Payton Hobart is not a man of overweening ambition. Really, his goals can be summed up in two simple words: “White” and “House.”

Well, OK. Maybe that is a sign of overweening ambition, especially for someone who struggles so mightily with Mandarin Chinese. But it’s not like he’s expecting someone to just hand him the keys to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It’s America’s most exclusive bit of real estate, after all. And while presidents may technically stay there rent free for, oh, four to eight years, Payton knows the real price of admission is high.

He’s willing to pay that price. Any price.

Payton’s Place

By high school, the wealthy, calculating Payton has already drawn a detailed map to the West Wing—one pieced together over a young lifetime of exhaustive research and painstaking algorithms. He knows that the first real step to the Oval Office begins early. Most modern U.S. Presidents were first presidents of their high school student bodies, and Payton plans to do the same thing.

But becoming student-body president for Santa Barbara’s ritzy St. Sebastian prep school won’t be easy.

Payton’s first opponent—handsome, disarmingly genuine River Cornswet—conveniently killed himself before the campaign truly hit full throttle. Though River’s unexpected suicide was certainly a personal loss for Payton (as River had been Payton’s Mandarin Chinese tutor and, by the way, secret lover), it was a political gain. Or so it seemed.

But River’s girlfriend, Astrid (yes, relationships here are confusing), took River’s place in the race, sweeping up much of the school’s sympathy vote. And while Payton’s team made up some ground by A) having Payton break up with his own girlfriend and B) drafting a cancer-stricken girl named Infinity to be his running mate, it’s still an uphill climb against an über-fickle electorate.

Then there are the ancillary issues. For instance, does Infinity really have cancer? Will Payton reunite with his one-time sweetie when the election’s over? How many more people will die before the season ends? And will Payton ever learn Mandarin?

Tippecanoe and Tawdry, Too!

Netflix’s The Politician is the Frankensteinian creation of Ryan Murphy, the brain behind both Fox’s runaway teen hit Glee and FX’s wildly bonkers American Horror Story. Both Murphy and Netflix are banking on The Politician to enjoy a multi-season arc (Season 2 is being plotted even as I write), with each new chapter chronicling another stage in Payton’s all-consuming drive to the White House.

Obviously, the ever-politically engaged Murphy means to lampoon modern American politics. Payton is a modern political machine more than he is an authentic human being—a character pieced together by algorithm and with no real principle other than power, no real emotion except the thrill of the win (and the crushing disappointment that comes with loss). But the show seeks to examine more than politics: In many ways, it cogently examines our social media society and the paradoxical isolation that comes with it—how in this day and age, image really is everything.

When Payton tells a Harvard dean that he cried watching It’s a Wonderful Life last Christmas, the dean asks him whether he cried because he was genuinely moved or simply because he was supposed to be moved.

“Does it matter?” Payton tells him. It’s clear that even he doesn’t know. And it’s not just Payton who struggles to discern between what’s real and what’s simply presentation.

But if The Politician makes some interesting points about the isolation and anxiety of 21st-century society, it embraces sexual and gender fluidity as strongly as any show I’ve seen. Few characters are strictly heterosexual, and many easily flux between attraction to one gender or another. And James, one of Payton’s campaign managers, is apparently transsexual.

In addition, when River (who’s still alive at this point) picks Skye to be his running mate, and thus potentially become the school’s first “gender non-conforming African-American” vice president, it feels like it offers a conflicting message. On one hand, it’s a satirical jab at our culture’s overweening desire for tokenistic diversity.

But given the show’s reluctance to have characters conform to any consistent expression of sexuality at all, it also feels like both a celebration of a future gender-free society and propaganda to push that society in that direction. That’s obviously going to be an issue for many families, despite the show’s TV-14 rating.

Lest we forget, all this fluid sexuality is being expressed by high schoolers—kids too young to drink (even though some do) or likely vote (except in student body elections).

Viewers must also navigate the show’s other content issues, namely suicides, attempted suicides, attempted murders, death threats, bribes and countless lies. And while The Politician doesn’t condone attempted murder or most of the lying it portrays, there it is, it’s still necessary to wade through it all.

In the end, The Politician feels a lot like your standard political campaign: A little substance, a lot of scandal and a constant barrage of bluster. I know which way I’d vote: Do you?

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Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Sept. 27, 2019: "Pilot"



Readability Age Range



Ben Platt as Payton Hobart; Zoey Deutch as Infinity Jackson; Lucy Boynton as Astrid Sloan; Bob Balaban as Keaton Hobart; David Corenswet as River Barkley; Julia Schlaepfer as Alice Charles; Laura Dreyfuss as McAfee Westbrook; Theo Germaine as James Sullivan; Rahne Jones as Skye Leighton; Benjamin Barrett as Ricardo; Jessica Lange as Dusty Jackson; Gwyneth Paltrow as Georgina Hobart






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On Video

Year Published



Paul Asay

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