Monday, July 16, 2012

Political Animals starts out Uneven but Finishes Strong in the end

Political Animals starts out a bit cheesy with the introduction of Elaine Hammond who is running for President, my initial thought was I hope this does not delve too much into the "soap opera" stratosphere.  Elaine is the former first lady to the former President Bud Hammond, the most popular democrat since JFK took a bullet to the head, those are Bud's words.  Elaine is running against a young idealistic Paul Garcetti, but in the opening gives a concession speech.  After the speech Elaine and Bud talk about the loss, Bud's ego forces him to blame himself for her loss, forcing her to see Bud always makes things about him; she walks away telling him she wants a divorce.  Cut to two years later and the show focusing on the now Elaine Barrish as Secretary of State.  Sound familiar?

Political Animals appears to be similar to a "what if" version of "what if Hillary left Bill Clinton?"  Many people will compare this show and Elaine or Sigourney Weaver to a Hillary Clinton like figure.  The main reason for this is because when it comes to female politicians, people cling to the familiar, and can never see other singular women (in office) for who they are, something different.  Hillary's story, and reach for power was also a harrowing journey; she worked hard to separate her own legacy from her husbands, and is the only first lady to hold an elected office, ever. Creator and EP Greg Berlanti (Brothers & Sisters) makes sure to create a line that divides the differences within Elaine, her family, and creates an interesting world around them.  Weaver is the flue that holds the show together and her terrific acting, which evolves throughout the first episode, helps sustain the the episode.

In this series Elaine has divorced her husband but is surrounded by a quirky family.  Elaine's mother played by the amazing Ellen Burstyn is a pistol who spits out hilarious comments the way Maggie Smith does in Downton Abbey.  I hope they give her more screen time because I can see great character development within her.  James Wolk plays Elaine's more "stable son" he is her chief of staff, about to get engaged, but I feel a few secrets will force this Kennedy like character perfection to be cracked.  Elaine's other son T. J. played by episode stand out Sebastian Stan is a terrific character.  Stan deals with being the first openly gay son of the first family, this strain along with a drug addiction proves to be a challenge for both T. J. and his mother's career.  Then of course there is the complicated relationship between Elaine and her ex husband Bud (Ciaran Hinds) who hits out the charm in an incredibly Clintonesque way.  After dealing with all of her family, her job, namely the President (Adrian Pasadar), Elaine also has to deal with a reporter obsessed with her family.  Susan Berg played by Carla Guigino is the reporter who covered Bud's infidelities during the White House days; she is back and her connection with Elaine is more similar than the the two realize.

Together all of these element prove strained but fascinating within the first episode of this "limited series."  Berlanti is great at deconstructing the family drama behind it all; he did this beautifully on Brothers & Sisters, and I think this will be an incredibly strong part of the series.  One of the weaker parts of the show was the writing itself.  Berlanti who wrote and directed the first episode does not have the political charge to make this West Wing like, and while I know the show is meant to be different the characters speak the dialogue (often times) as though they are void of intellect.  The first episode took on too much too soon, and much like Newsroom with its hour an a half tried to cram too much in at once.  Berlanti closed out the episode well, and made up for poor start to make this one show I will tune in week after week for.

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