Regularly Scheduled Programming: ‘The Politician’ has my vote

A close-up of a blue suit lapel with a "vote!" button pinned to it. The background is a stylized American flag design with pink stripes and blue and white stars.
Graphic by Greta Long

How far will someone go to get what they want? “The Politician” aims to find the answer. 

“The Politician,” created by Ryan Murphy, started streaming on Netflix on Sept. 27 and stars Ben Platt, Zoey Deutch, Lucy Boynton and Gwyneth Paltrow. 

Platt plays Payton Hobart, a neurotic high school student with one goal: becoming President of the United States. To do so, he first needs to win the election for student body president. 

“The Politician” is enticing and incredibly entertaining, with spectacular writing and acting. It’s a perfect culmination of all of Murphy’s work, with a hint of eccentrism. 

The show is comparable to Wes Anderson, complete with dysfunctional families and overhead camera angles. The writing is funny with an edge of drama that makes it a dark comedy.

But, the perfection of the show on its own is not the only reason it’s so notable. “The Politician” is a satire that comments on the political climate and nature of elections in America. 

In my high school experience, the race for student body president was never taken to be anything more than a popularity contest. To Hobart and the rest of the main characters in “The Politician,” however, the race is taken extremely seriously, with the weight of a real presidential election. 

Hobart and his advisers decide that he must pick a student with cancer, Infinity Jackson (Deutch) for vice president to increase his electability. The level of pressure placed on this election feels bizarre. The stakes are stacked so absurdly high that characters go down dangerous paths to achieve their goals, channeling an almost Macbethian ambition. Hobart’s girlfriend, Alice, operates as a kind of Lady Macbeth, making sacrifices to their relationship for Hobart to ensure his victory.

For this school election, putting up posters and handing out candy is not enough. In one scene, Hobart gives a speech about the importance of gun control and announces a specific plan to make their school safer. Hobart and his opponent look closely at polling numbers and stress heavily about winning the election. They frequently break down from the pressure of the election determining their futures and careers, proclaiming that their lives are over if they do not seize victory.

Because this show is produced by Ryan Murphy, a creator known for aesthetically pleasing and hard-to-believe plot points paired with a great soundtrack (recall “American Horror Story” and “Glee”), insane amounts of drama ensue. 

When I first heard about “The Politician,” I was obviously excited, being a big fan of Murphy and Platt. I assumed the show was Murphy’s answer to the events of the 2016 election, a political drama like “House of Cards” or a comedy like “Veep.” I was surprised to watch the trailer and discover that the show was actually about teenagers, not adult politicians.

I knew that this had to be the case for a reason; Murphy must be making a statement about the current political climate in America through teenagers. 

Today, adult politicians can act like teenagers, starting fights over Twitter when they don’t get what they want and defaming their competitors. This contrasts directly with how teenagers are forced to grow up fast, the perils of climate change, massive student debt and more looming ominously in their futures. 

While the parallels are not exact, similarities can be drawn between Hobart as a highly qualified, highly motivated candidate and his opponent, Astrid Sloan, who seemingly only wants to win so Hobart doesn’t. The show derives most of its frustration from the audience because of this conflict — you want Hobart to win because it’s clear he wants it the most. 

Episode five of “The Politician,” called “The Voter,” occurs on the day of the election, when Sloan and Hobart are trying to lock down undecided votes. Similar to the 2016 election, Sloan and Hobart know the results are going to come down to voter turnout. 

The race is that close. So they track down undecided students to try and sway them, including a junior named Elliott who apparently no other students have heard of. 

Gaining Elliott’s vote proves almost impossible because he just doesn’t care about the election or the candidates. His presence in “The Politician” reminded me that not all of the students care about the election; many just care about normal teenage things. He thinks his vote doesn’t matter, in what feels like direct commentary from Murphy on the lack of political awareness and voter turnout in the U.S. in 2016. 

“The Politician” paints an intense yet perplexing portrait of the American political system. The show points out how in a time so fraught with political disillusionment, politics can be like high school drama. Students are pushed to their breaking points to achieve what they want, breaking the rules and sacrificing their integrity and values to impose a future on the student body that fits their vision. 

For years, TV creators have made political dramas and comedies to respond to the political environment of the time. Some take the comedic route, like “1600 Penn” or “Veep.” Others are more dramatic, like the more positive “The West Wing” or dark “House of Cards.” 

“The Politician” is the best of all worlds. It combines hilarious comedy with intense drama, shedding an ironic and poignant light on current events. It’s subtle but not invisible, and the commentary is easy to understand. 

“The Politician” reminds audiences to pay attention to the political climate and draw their own parallels. It never truly answers the question of how far someone will go, because for these characters, you can never go too far. 

Claire DuMont SC ’23 is TSL’s TV columnist. She’s an intended American Studies major from Manhattan Beach, California. She loves her dogs and cats, Kristen Bell, Reese Witherspoon and talking about TV (obviously).

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