Netflix’s “The Politician” Is a Wild Ride From Start to Finish

Netflix’s latest original show “The Politician,” starring Tony Award-winning actor Ben Platt as main character Payton Hobart, was released on the streaming service September 27. With eight episodes and almost six and a half hours of content, the first season is easily bingeable, a common trait amongst Netflix series. The show was created by Ryan Murphy, who also co-created the popular shows “Glee” and “American Horror Story.” Alongside Platt, the show stars veteran actors like Gwyneth Paltrow, who plays Payton’s adoptive mother, as well as lesser-known actors like Julia Schlaepfer, who plays Payton’s girlfriend and First Lady in training.

The show centers around Payton, an ambitious teen adopted into an incredibly wealthy family who is using his high school campaign as a springboard for his future political career — and eventual run for president of the United States. Payton runs against his close friend River Barkley, who is soon replaced by his own girlfriend Astrid Sloan after unforeseen circumstances eliminate River from the race. Payton, his mother and his advisors will stop at nothing to ensure Payton wins the race. 

The events that transpire, including suicide, alleged kidnapping and attempted murder, are completely over-the-top and unrealistic for a high school campaign, but they are entertaining nonetheless. And despite the show’s high school setting, it offers commentary on relevant contemporary issues in higher-stakes politics today, including gender conformity and sexual fluidity, gun violence and environmental issues. “The Politician” is undeniably progressive, both in the stance it takes on these specific issues and the comments it makes on politics in general. In the show, candidates are actually held accountable for their words and actions and are punished when they do something out of line, which is refreshing, however unrealistic.

The show also has a more thoughtful and emotional side, which has a much clearer narrative than the chaotic, sometimes hard to follow, political antics. Characters explore the authenticity of politicians and the moral implications of doing the right things for the wrong reasons - i.e. personal benefit. Fitting with his character’s internal dilemma about whether his ambition will overtake his emotions, Platt delivers a stunning performance of both overwhelming emotion and sociopathic lack thereof. Platt, known for his lead performance in Broadway musical “Dear Evan Hansen,” also gets to showcase his musical talents in the series, with multiple heartfelt performances that give viewers a break from the politics, if only for a few minutes.

Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

*Spoilers Ahead!!!*

Okay, now that I’ve given a basic rundown of the show, I wanted to share my reactions to some specific scenes, characters, etc. and end with some questions I hope get answered in Season 2.

First of all, Payton’s performance of Joni Mitchell’s “River” after River’s suicide in the first episode gave me literal chills and brought me to tears, much like every student in the audience. And then Astrid follows that with the announcement that she’s taking River’s place and asks people to vote for her? Wow, that was cold. Whatever, at least it’s clear who loved River more.

Also, anyone who has ever heard of Gypsy Rose or Hulu’s “The Act” will know exactly what the deal is with Infinity Jackson. I suspect Netflix knows this and purposely chose the character and her storyline because of that, but I can’t help but feel a little bit weird about it.

Speaking of Infinity, I’m glad she dumped Ricardo. Ricardo is like the opposite of Jason Mendoza from “The Good Place.” He’s equally as stupid, but where Jason is humorous and loveable, Ricardo is just annoying and honestly a little frightening at times.

I think Astrid might be one of the most complex characters in the show. It was easy for me to support Payton over her in the campaign. Payton always seemed to know what he was doing and handled himself pretty gracefully (at least in the public eye) when he didn’t. Astrid’s campaign was a total mess and I found it a little hard to believe anyone supported her at all. Dropping out of the race to make Payton win by default, though? Conniving, but absolutely genius and not at all the outcome I was expecting. With the campaign over, she really just wants to focus on finding herself, and I fully support that.

The show takes a very sudden tone shift at the end of the election. Payton can’t get any of his ideas approved and he loses the reigns. After that, the show—like Payton—loses much of its political drive. BUT THEN. The last episode jumps ahead three years, and I have lots of questions.

First, why NYU? Payton mentioned earlier in the series that he was already accepted at Stanford and Princeton. Why didn’t he attend one of those?

Also, what is Payton even studying? We know he spends most of his nights performing at a local dive bar, but is he at least studying political science, or did he give up politics completely?

We know McAfee graduated in 3 years rather than four, so she’s in the clear, but how do Payton and James plan to launch a full-speed-ahead campaign for state senator while still in college?

What roles are Skye and Infinity going to play in this campaign, since state senators don’t have VPs? Oh, and also, how did Payton reconcile with Skye after she TRIED TO KILL HIM?

Finally, is no one going to talk about the fact that Payton walked in on Alice and James making out? And James claiming he was in love with Alice? Alice pledged her loyalty to Payton afterwards and leaves her fiance at the altar to back Payton and his new campaign, but what will it be like to be around James so much again?

Wow, my thoughts, much like the show, are very scattered and honestly kind of a hot mess. I have so many more, too, so if you’ve watched the show DM me on Twitter or Instagram and let’s discuss!

Season 1 of “The Politician” is currently streaming on Netflix, with a second season set to premiere in the summer of 2020.