On the 19th June, Netflix’s political comedy-drama, The Politician, returned for a second season after its first won two Golden Globes and a GLAAD award. Glee and American Horror Story writer Ryan Murphy is the man behind this political satire, with this season finding the main characters a few years older following the time jump at the end of season one, as the show’s protagonist, Payton Hobart (Ben Platt), is now fighting to become State Senator for New York. This time there is some more star power as Payton goes up against Dede (Judith Light) and her ruthless head of campaigns Hadassah Gold (the iconic Bette Midler) – the two making very entertaining additions.
The Politician quite accurately represents the current political landscape: the battle between older generations and the younger ones; backroom political dealings; cancel culture; the differing opinions involving climate change; and most importantly, it discusses whether politicians are actually fighting for the people, or for their own ambition. Our greatly flawed protagonist, Payton, best represents this final theme.
Payton is our titular ‘politician’, as we watch his eternal conflict to decide whether what he is doing is for his own good or to benefit others. Yet his struggle is not whether to be moral or immoral; instead, he is trying to work out which path benefits him the most in his campaign. The show allows us to reflect on our own politicians, especially the common trend of them failing to keep their promises once they are elected. Are they being truthful, or is their authentic self actually the superficial need to be a winner?
“There are jobs that feed the ego and there are jobs that make a difference. Politics does both.”Georgina Hobart (Gwyneth Paltrow)
There is no slow start to season two as we dive right into the conflict and the buzz. However, the shortest episode of the season, episode five, stands above the rest, brilliant in its depiction of the generational divide. Replicating a similar episode in from the first season, episode five breaks away from the usual structure of the show and is instead seen from the perspective of two voters in the election: a mother (Robin Weigert) and daughter (Susannah Perkins). The trend of younger generations blaming the older ones for not doing enough to stop climate change, amongst a number of other social issues, leads older generations to disregard their arguments in defensiveness.
It was by no means a perfect episode. The daughter could have had some change of perspective at the end (as her mother did), but maybe that was a statement in itself. While focusing on single-issues, younger generations might not be seeing the big picture, which politicians might abuse to get ahead. Overall, this episode managed to contain all the messages of season two into one episode, making the rest of the season arguably unnecessary.
The diversity within the show is almost as tokenistic as actual politics. There’s the one ‘strong black woman’ Skye, played Rahne Jones; Ryan J Haddad, who has cerebral palsy and performs the role of the slightly-creepy Andrew; and trans non-binary actor Theo Germaine who plays Payton’s sidekick James. These characters (and their underused actors) would probably be more interesting than the bland, privileged Payton in their own right. Even Infinity (Zoey Deutch), a key character in the first season, has a heavily reduced role this season – satirised as an eco-lunatic.
Overall the season isn’t incredible TV, but it is engaging, somewhat thought-provoking, and mildly funny, with the outrageous scenarios helping to push the story along. However, this time the series is lost in the midst of all the content Netflix has been pumping out. The main flaw is that it is too over-the-top for a serious drama about politics, but too grounded in reality for those who prefer absurdist, unrealistic shows. The ending leaves space for a third season, though whether there’ll be one is another question. If not, we’ll still have the wonderful scenes of Gwyneth Paltrow essentially playing herself as she runs for political office. If you thought Trump was bad…
Words by Ayomikun Adekaiyero