Friday, September 27, 2019

REVIEW: 'The Politician' - Payton Is Shocked By the Constant Drama Around the Race for Student Body President in 'Pilot'

Netflix's The Politician - Episode 1.01 "Pilot"

After a charismatic candidate joins the race for student body president, Payton searches for a running mate who will make him seem more authentic.

In 2018, there were 495 scripted shows airing amongst the linear channels and streaming services. The way people are consuming content now is so different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, there is less necessity to provide ample coverage of each specific episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site is making the move to shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the series premiere of Netflix's The Politician.

"Pilot" was written by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk & Ian Brennan and directed by Ryan Murphy

The Politician presents an insanely artificial world. It's an environment defined by excessive wealth and privilege. It centers entirely around Payton's compulsion to become President of the United States. It's a future he has envisioned for himself from a young age. And yet, he also presents as a deranged individual who may actually be a psychopath. He worries about that. He wonders if he actually experiences emotions like his peers or if he is just faking it all. It certainly seems as if Payton is nothing more than a shell of a man simply doing whatever it takes to make this one dream a reality for himself. He only allows himself to be vulnerable when it is advantageous to his career ambitions. He is running for student body president at his high school. It's a race that shouldn't be seen as the barometer for future success. And yet, the show presents it as drastically important. It can be managed just like the campaigns for the highest office of the land. Payton is hardly the only one obsessed over it either. He has a whole team of aides conducting flash polling to see which maneuvers work and how he plays to his fellow students. The other side is just as competitive. However, it also becomes clear that the show wishes to go a mile a minute with its pacing. There is so much plot to cover in this premiere. River enters the political race. He makes a solid impression on his fellow students. But halfway through, he dies from suicide. He does so right in front of Payton. All of this can be seen as a moment of true authenticity. These people are so worried about how their actions come across and judge themselves much more severely than anyone else could possibly do that they didn't see the agony their friend was in. He opened up at the debate about his previous suicide attempt. And yet, Payton and his team largely see that as a ploy to create sympathy for his campaign. It was a way to sway opinion over to his side. It's a calculated move to help him win. But it actually was River talking from the bottom of his heart. He wished to share this experience with his classmates to make it clear that they all feel the agony of being alone even if they are the most popular kid in school. River yearned for more authentic connections from Payton and Astrid. They seemed completely baffled by the premise. That didn't square with the way they have conditioned themselves to see the world. As such, River dies because he feels like the only person capable of being genuine. That isn't true. And yet, it highlights the true danger and cost of this excessive and exuberant lifestyle. Payton can't even feel any emotion about this. He is able to render some when he is campaigning in front of the school. His performance of Joni Mitchell's "River" is a wonderful moment because Ben Platt has such a terrific singing voice. But again, it can also be seen as a gimmick. The same goes to Astrid who follows that up by saying she'll replace River in the race. It's all a bunch of drama to see who can beat whom and come across as authentic without really being that. It's a strategy that takes the right execution in order to work fully. It's clear that Ryan Murphy delights in the absurd details of this world. It allows him to work with Gwyneth Paltrow and Jessica Lange again while introducing a stellar young ensemble. Ben Platt is a capable leading man. It can just be difficult to invest in what the show is doing because it may not represent the current political moment all that well. Instead, it shows just how vein and destructive the wealthy can actually be. Payton is furious that he got wait listed at Harvard. He's upset that he learns after the fact that his running mate Infinity is faking her illness. These are extreme emotions. But the only moments that paint him as a true human being are when he is with his mother and with River. And those dynamics may not provide much refuge as the season develops and this campaign only gets more intense and convoluted. Payton's breakdown in front of Dusty and Infinity initially presents as a genuine display of emotions. They happen to come out in awkward times. But even that later reveals itself to simply be a political move used to convince Infinity to join his campaign. It's successful but a little deceitful too. That's the overall mood of this piece which can be fairly harsh and rough on the viewer.