Originally posted on NextGenJournal.com. For original, please refer to: Political Animals Proves More Isn’t Always More – NextGen Journal.
Last night, USA Network ran the second installment of their limited series Political Animals. If the ratings for the first episode last Sunday are any indication, not many people were watching and even fewer young viewers bothered. From someone who watched the premiere but didn’t tune in last night, I can all but guarantee you’re not missing much.
Political Animals is about U.S. Secretary of State Elaine Barrish (Sigourney Weaver), a former first lady who ran for the presidency but lost to a young, good-looking senator. Sound familiar? What prevents Animals from being a complete and total rip-off of real life Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s story is that in this version, Barrish divorces her philandering, ex-president husband Bud Hammond (played with a horrendous Southern accent by Ciarán Hinds) and becomes enormously popular not only within her own party, but throughout the country.
Putting aside any complaints that Animals is nothing but wish fulfillment fan-fiction for Hillary fanatics (which, let’s be clear, is exactly what it is), the series is mediocre at best. That’s a shame, too, because Weaver is nothing but a talented actress. She deserves a role and series as great as other film actresses like Kyra Sedgwick (The Closer), Glenn Close (Damages), Laura Linney(The Big C), et al. The supporting cast is strong as well: Carla Gugino, James Wolk, Sebastian Stan and the absolutely marvelous Ellen Burstyn, whose incredibly quotable quips are possibly the only reason I would advocate tuning in.
But the acting is not the issue here — it’s the sub-par writing and the inability of the minds behind the series to edit their work. The characterization is all over the place: is Elaine really a warm, loving mother of her twin sons, Douglas (Wolk) and T.J. (Stan), or a tough-as-nails woman who takes no crap? Certainly, it’s not impossible for a person to be both, but the two sides would at least share some traits. Elaine veers from one polar opposite to the other between scenes with no commonality. It’s almost as though Weaver herself has no idea who Elaine is.
Perhaps that problem wouldn’t be so evident if the creators hadn’t tried to stuff so many plots into one series. Let’s take stock — one ripped-from-the-headlines plot about kidnapped journalists. One plot about Bud dating a younger, big-chested woman (Lucila Sola) from a Grey’s Anatomy-type show. One plot about T.J.’s self-destructive behavior snorting coke and hooking up with random guys on Grindr. One plot about Douglas’ engagement to a bulimic young woman (Brittany Ishibashi, a novice in a cast of veterans – and it shows). And that’s just the main family.
You’ve also got Gugino’s reporter character, Susan Berg, who seems obsessed with covering the Hammond clan after winning a Pulitzer for covering Bud’s affairs during his presidency. Did I mention Susan is also the victim of her boyfriend/boss’ philandering with a hot, young blogger, thus introducing yet another plot about print journalism v. new media?
Are you dizzy yet? I am. This mini-series, pardon, ‘limited series,’ as USA Network insistently calls it – is only six episodes long, yet they’ve stuffed it so full of plot that it would take two full seasons to digest it all properly. Not only that, but most of these plots are incredibly boring – only Elaine and Susan’s relationship is really resonating thus far. Yet the writers are content to waste time on pointless scenes that don’t advance the plot. Was it really necessary to include a scene showing off how Elaine and the president danced together at a campaign spot?
It’s as if the writers said, “The audience is too dumb to comprehend a complex character – let’s show them how fun she can be!” Along the same lines, we also get gratuitous sex scenes and the now burned-into-my-brain image of Douglas’ fiancée purging. All of this would seem to be an attempt to make the series ‘edgy,’ but somewhere in the series’ development, the creators forgot to also make it good.
Political Animals is a lot like NBC’s Smash – good in theory with a strong central concept, but stuffed with too many characters and plot lines, completely unaware of which is the strongest. The difference is that Smash was renewed for a second season and has been given significant time to retool, while Animals only has six episodes, all already filmed. So if you haven’t liked the last two episodes, it’s not likely to get any more watchable.
Luckily, the best part of a mini-series is that it’ll be over before the summer ends, allowing all its phenomenally talented cast members to get back to worthier ventures. Until then, you can count me out of this series that is ‘limited’ in more ways than one.