TV Review: Netflix’s ‘The Politician’ Starring Ben Platt

Variety | 9/23/2019 | Caroline Framke
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If you tried to drink every time someone on “The Politician” says “ambition,” you wouldn’t get through a single episode alive. For the steel-jawed characters of “The Politician,” and especially its ostensible hero Payton (executive producer Ben Platt), ambition is the urgent undercurrent of just about every scene, revealing a desperate intensity that never lets up. Ambition is what drives them to be smarter, more ruthless, more removed. It’s what keeps them dissatisfied with everything they already have — for better and, more and more frequently, for worse.

It’s not altogether shocking that ambition is also the driving force that brought its creative team back together. For the first project for Netflix, Ryan Murphy turned to Brad Falchuck and Ian Brennan, his former collaborators on a show whose characters palpably ached under the weight of their ambition: “Glee.” Given the thematic similarities between that series and this one, similarly exaggerated high school settings, and Murphy’s enormous blank Netflix check (the producer signed a massive overall deal with the streaming service last year, though this show falls under his previous agreement with 20th Century Fox TV) it would be reasonable to assume that “The Politician” might take full advantage of its unlimited running time and lack of censors to get even more manic than “Glee” ever did. The first couple episodes back up that instinct by leaning into a deliberately brusque dialogue rhythm, pastel palette, and the characters’ own gaudy wealth. (Wes Anderson, and particularly “Rushmore,” come to mind more than once, though “The Politician” always has more of an acidic bite.) And yet, over the course of its eight-episode season, “The Politician” proves to be something a little more interesting than it seems — and yes, maybe even a little more ambitious.

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