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USA Network's "Political Animals" Is Stubbornly Bad in All the Wrong Ways

By Dustin Rowles | TV Reviews | July 18, 2012 | Comments ()


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"Political Animals" is a terrible mini-series. It shouldn't be. It stars Sigourney Weaver as Elaine Barrish, the televisual equivalent of Hilary Clinton. She's an ambitious ex-wife of a womanizing two-term President from a Southern state. She lost her own bid to be President of the United States and settled for being Secretary of State to the victor, President Garcetti (Adrian Pasdar). She also left her husband (Ciarán Hinds) on the day he left office because he couldn't stop sleeping around with other woman. While many accuse Barrish of staying with him for political reasons, it turns out, she's actually magnetically drawn to him. Meanwhile, Barrish aims to mix her political and family life while ruminating over another bid for the presidency.

If that was all there was to "Political Animals" -- an examination of a powerful woman torn between her heart and her ambition -- perhaps "Political Animals" could be salvaged. Unfortunately, series writer and creator Greg Berlanti (The Green Lantern, "Eli Stone") is more interested in turning "Political Animals" into a dishy, over-the-top American telenovela. Berlanti throws more shit at the wall in the opening episode of "Political Animals" than Ryan Murphy does in half a season "Glee," leaving only a pregnancy bombshell for future episodes.

Let's start with the family: Barrish has one son, the good one who is also an advisor (James Wolk, "Lone Star"), who is about to get married, and Barrish insists on controlling the engagement party and the wedding to the frustration of the bride-to-be. Meanwhile, the bad son, Thomas (Sebastian Stan), is a recovering drug addict who is not recovering. He's gay (naturally) and engaging in steamy sexy with male prostitutes. He also has a suicide attempt that the world doesn't know about yet.

That's where Carla Gugino's political reporter, Susan Berg, comes in. She knows about the suicide attempt, and uses it as leverage to orchestrate an interview with Barrish. However, that comes undone when Berg tells his editor boyfriend about the suicide attempt and he tells the gossip columnist he's sleeping with about it. The gossip columnist publishes the details, a contrivance that ultimately, somehow, brings Berg and Barrish together as unlikely allies, bonded over their bad luck with shitty men.

There's a lot going on in "Political Animals" and none of it is compelling. Berlanti is aiming for something along the lines of recent soap-y hits like "Revenge" and "Scandal," but he quickly overplays his hand with a terribly written pilot complete with hammy performances and enough platitudes to kill a community college lit professor. It's all the more disappointing because "Political Animals" airs in the same time slot as "Breaking Bad" and "Newsroom," two shows rich with interesting themes, complex characters, and well-crafted narratives. "Political Animals," meanwhile, aims to counter program by insulting a female demographic with badly drawn, exaggerated caricatures and plotlines straight out of Harlequin romances. It's as though USA Network is saying, "Hey! If you don't like those smart, densely-packed shows on AMC and HBO, here's a bowl of shit you can eat instead!" Hell, it's a show about a female Secretary of State, the most powerful woman in the United States, and yet it still fails to pass the Bechdel test. Berlanti could've taken advantage of a strong cast and created the political equivalent of "The Good Wife." Instead, he's made the political equivalent of "The Client List," a shoddy, criminal waste of talent and opportunity.



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Comments Are Welcome, Douches Are Not


  • Bill

    Couldnt disagree with you more. Political Animals is brilliant and the cast remarkable. Absolutely a joy to watch, there really isn't much on TV right now that's as fun to watch than Animals.

  • terebi

    Another waste of Adrian Pasdar. I'm starting to wonder if he has bad luck, or his agent hates him.

  • Sirilicious

    "bowl of shit"?

    You should have stuck with "none of it is compelling", because that is just unsavoury and unprofessional.

  • Sirilicious

    Also, it does not fail to pass the Bechdell test. I've only skimmed the ep for it ( i watched it in full a few days ago), but there is the mother in law talking to the journalist. The fact that she asks if the journalist has a boyfriend is hardly a breach of the rules, as isn't the talk between the secretary and the journalist on the plane.

  • fcanaj

    I loved it, seems like between this The Newsroom and Girls I disagree with all the critics.

  • Case Crum

    "a dishy, over-the-top American telenovela"

    But that's exactly the reason why I LOVE it. It's delicious television.

  • John W

    I gave SMG a chance on Ringer so I'll give Weaver a chance on this. She deserves it.

    Plus Carla Gugino is in it!

  • Az

    It's TELENOVELA.

  • pajiba

    TELENOVA gives it a nice space-like quality, like its badness is about to EXPLODE!

  • Katie

    I remember seeing a commercial for Political Animals, and realizing that after watching Veep, I could never take it seriously (even if it did turn out to be not crap).

  • Lipton

    Wow, I completely and totally disagree with you, which is a first for me. On pretty much every point. It wasn't subtle but it was damn entertaining. And I'm not quite sure what you think the standard is for passing the Bechdel test because, if memory serves, they passed it during the conversation on the plane, if not sooner (I wasn't taking copious notes for posterity).

    I can't compare Political Animals to Newsroom as I haven't watched the latter, nor am I likely to do so (I'm so done with Aaron Sorkin that I've started finding classic episodes of The West Wing overwrought and preachy, and I used to love that show) but I certainly enjoyed it. Sure it's thinly-veiled, as in not at all, Hillary Clinton hagiography but Sigourney Weaver makes it work for me.

    I guess I can officially join the group of assholes who have disagreed with Rowles. So, what time is the ritual sacrifice? Should I bring something or will the adorable woodland creatures be provided?

  • Ted Hendershot

    I couldn't finish the pilot. C'mon, it's apallingly turgid, patronizing crap with piss-poor dialogue. Enjoy it, but don't pretend it's better than Jersey Shore. (It's worse!)

  • BWeaves

    What's wrong with Sigourney Weaver's face? The whole chin area looks weird.

  • Pookie

    I remember back in the day being a homemaker was very honorable, where have our values gone?

  • Miss Laaw-yuhr

    But hey, who doesn't want to be at the center of that lady sandwich?

  • Kathleen Allen

    but, but...ciaran! how can it be, how can they...there's ciaran! crap.

  • Phaedre

    Well, i was completely entertained by the first episode. I love Sigourney Weaver in this and think that the pairing with Gugino is interesting.

    Sure they beat us over the head a little with some of the broader themes and Ceasar is certainly playing a caricature of a Southern (but he's still Ceasar!).

    What I'm trying to say is: I'm cutting this some slack while waiting for the return of "The Good Wife".

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Bummer. Such potential.

    I guess they decided The Good Wife wasn't sexy enough.

  • Duvall

    Newsroom is smart? Is that something that happens after the first four episodes?

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