Gwyneth Paltrow is the best thing about 'The Politician'
Television makes for grim viewing these days, with some of the most-discussed TV of the year so far pouring over the Ted Bundy killings, reliving the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, and dredging up dark details in the Central Park Five case.
Even comedies like Russian Doll, Fleabag and This Way Up, are using comedy as a smokescreen to explore issues like mortality and grief.
In other words, now is the perfect moment for a new Ryan Murphy series, the brain from which came zany shows such as Nip/Tuck, Glee, Pose, Scream Queens and American Horror Story. One of the most consistent talents in television, his shows often have a campy melodrama to them which on the surface is frivolous and fun, but really is a way of dressing up heavier ideas, and, as he has said, "mixing lightness with darkness".
The Politician, which comes to Netflix today, has all the hallmarks of a classic Murphy series: championing eccentric and seemingly unlikeable underdogs, pouring scorn on superficiality, an exploration of sexuality and gender, visually striking scenes, and over-the -top musical numbers.
Payton Hobart (Ben Platt) is a teenager hell-bent on becoming President: a job he reasons the natural path to is becoming Student Body President and later attending Harvard. The series follows the twists and turns of his campaign as he tries to outsmart his opposition and the pressure mounts on his advisory team of friends.
It's House of Cards for high schoolers, skewering the world of underhand tactics and sabotage by having the race confined to a school in sunny Santa Barbara. Which isn't to say it isn't exceedingly dark, here running mates are shamelessly exploited for their race, sexual orientation or cancer diagnosis, and assassination attempts are par for the course.
The series is a temperature gauge on high schoolers now: a time where students want mental health advocacy, there's a "full-time harassment Tsar at the school", and a fundraiser allows students to smash the patriarchy by taking a a baseball bat to a Rolls Royce spray-painted with #MeToo.
And yet, as HBO's recent teen drama Euphoria did, The Politician reminds us that teenagers are still just kids at the end of the day, here serving up the cold hard truth that in raelity they don’t care about gun control reform as much as they want Drake to play at their prom.
Platt plays the precocious Payton well, and Lucy Boynton brings a glacial chilliness to the screen in the form of his political rival Astrid, but it is Gwyneth Paltrow playing Payton's ethereal mother Georgina who truly steals the show.
Georgina is a Goop-mould Super Mom whose skin glows and emerald dresses are always immaculate as she floats across the screen. She puts crystals under her son's armpits when he's ill and paints watercolours of a Syrian boy killed in an airstrike.
Yes, Georgina is Gwyneth, and she's played with such sublime smugness that you have to wonder if perhaps Paltrow doesn't take herself as seriously as we thought. That said, the fact her new husband Brad Falchuk was an Executive Producer on the show probably made the ribbing feel less pointed.
At one point Georgina remarks that “this is the fourth time somebody’s jumped out of a window when I’ve tried to break up with them.” It's a Emmy-campaign launching line, one delivered with the droll weariness of Margot Tenembaum, and, let's face it, probably lifted from Paltrow's diary.
'The Politician' is on Netflix now