Ryan Murphy's new venture is an entertaining but implausible show about vaulting ambition
The Ryan Murphy juggernaut continues apace as he kicks off his eye-wateringly lucrative Netflix deal with a show about young politicos which intrigues and irritates in broadly equal measure. The Politician, with its starry cast of Murphy regulars such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Jessica Lange, Dylan McDermott and Judith Light, tells the baroque technicolour tale of Payton Hobart (Ben Platt) who is adopted into great wealth and has but a single dream: to one day become America's commander-in-chief.
But first, he has to nail being elected as high-school president, and with a team of teenage operatives who are improbably au fait with complex data analysis of voter trends (think The West Wing if it was populated by the Minipops), it seems like a formality. But as we all know to our cost these days, an election victory can rarely be called until the last vote has been counted, and Hobart faces strong competition from various quarters while his search for a credible running mate is ill-fated from the kick-off.
The Politician hammers its central theme home with bewildering regularity as the words 'real', 'fake' and 'authenticity' are bandied around by almost every character. The not-so veiled subtext is that politics should be the last place to look for decent people doing decent things. while the super-rich Santa Barbara setting is a hotbed of insincerity and deceit. As for the not-so wealthy, those characters are generally unpleasant and permanently on the make. In one episode specifically about voter apathy, we spend most of it with an adolescent boy who spends his mornings masturbating in bed and later ignores attempts to woo his vote, instead staring at an endless series of female behinds, which the camera lingers on to an awkward and wholly unnecessary degree. The episode ends, he never crops up again, and any point that was made left hanging in the wind.
Platt is an appealing performer, and is given plenty opportunity to show off his musical talent (the Pitch Perfect star released his debut album earlier this year), but it's unclear why someone like tennis icon Martina Navratilova would be given a cameo: she may have had a devastating first serve, but she can't deliver a line to save herself. And if you're one of those people who comes out in hives at the very mention of Gwyneth Paltrow, there's little chance of your opinion changing here, as she plays the role of birth-mum to dastardly twins and adopted parent of Payton.
Murphy's aim for The Politician is to be a multi-season show which has Payton Hobart spearheading various election campaigns throughout his life. It's certainly a bold vision and one that is unlikely to be held back by the petty doubts of critics or audiences.
Episodes watched: 8 of 8
The Politician is available on Netflix, Friday 27 September.