Review: The Politician

As I mentioned in my blog post earlier today, I saw The Politician on Netflix. I thought this was an excellent show. Binged it. Saw most of it in a night, went to sleep, woke up and finished it off.

It’s about this rich high school kid who’s running for class president and taking it incredibly seriously. Content-wise, it focuses on these incredibly rich families in Santa Barbara and does a good job poking fun at the absurdity of their lives and the extremes of how out-of-touch they are while simultaneously humanizing them.

I found most of the characters in this show to be extremely relatable. Payton, the main character, with his baked in ambition and connivance combined with his desire to do good things as a sort of quid-pro-quo bargain with his soul. Payton’s boyfriend was relatable in his depression and empathy; he states at one point that he feels the whole world and there’s just not enough good to balance out the bad. I felt that.

The show has a great deal of obvious Wes Anderson influence, both in its subject matter (the precocious teens of Rushmore) and its photography direction (colorful, symmetrical shots, diorama-like sets, etc), but it’s subtle. It’s not over the top, and The Politician succeeds at crafting its own identity. The set design and the mise-en-scene overall is quite good, especially the costuming which is exceptionally deliberate and does a fantastic job at bringing the personality of each character to the surface.

The acting was very strong. Gwyneth Paltrow was a surprise standout as a wise and worldly mother who’s sort of evolved beyond the materialism and quest for power that surrounds her. The actress who played Infinity was another standout performer. The heart of what makes this show works are the characters, and nothing is out of place when it comes to bringing those characters to life.

The show does a great job of nailing a vibe that is both edgy in its authenticity and authentic in its edginess. Edgy in its authenticity because it holds a mirror up to what a lot of society seems to be going through right now: an epidemic of fakeness, especially when it comes to morality, in as a mask for selfish agendas and pure ambition. Authentic in its edginess because, in this framework of parody, it’s able to showcase a multitude of relevant modern issues in a smart way that is surprisingly apolitical for a show expressly about a political campaign.

One weak spot may be the way Astrid’s character was treated; she was introduced as Payton’s arch-rival and a sort of behind-the-scenes Machiavellian mastermind, but that’s not at all the character she turned out to be. In fact, Astrid’s campaign is largely irrelevant to the narrative of the show, despite being central to the promise of the whole thing.

Overall, probably the second best Netflix Original that I’ve seen this year (my favorite being End of the F***ing World). I’d recommend it. It ends with a hard setup for a second season, which I’d be excited to watch.

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