Review: Glee creators return to high school for Netflix’s ‘The Politician’

The+promotional+image+for+%22The+Politician%22.+The+show+is+about+a+wealthy+student+from+California%2C+his+desire+to+be+president+of+the+United+States+one+day%2C+and+the+lengths+he+is+willing+to+go+to+accomplish+that+goal.+

Photo credit: Netflix

The promotional image for "The Politician". The show is about a wealthy student from California, his desire to be president of the United States one day, and the lengths he is willing to go to accomplish that goal.

Glee” creators Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan make a return to high school for the new Netflix series, “The Politician,a fantasia on American politics, high school movies and the current cultural moment. Starring Ben Platt, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jessica Lange and many other notable faces, the series promises the darkly comedic, satirical tone we expect from Ryan Murphy and his team. The show was released on Sept. 27 and is Murphy’s first to debut on Netflix instead of FX or Fox, his long-time TV homes. 

Set in Santa Barbara, California, “The Politician” is centered around Payton Hobart (Ben Platt), an over-calculating high school senior who has wanted to be President of the United States ever since he was seven years old. Payton lost his parents when he was young and was adopted by socialite Georgina Hobart (Gwyneth Paltrow) and her wealthy collector husband Keaton (Bob Balaban). Payton has done the math to figure out every step on his path to the presidency. First, however, he must get through the most precarious political hurdle of all: Saint Sebastian High School.

In order to study at Harvard and continue on his journey to the White House, Payton must outsmart his ruthless classmates in the race for student body president without sacrificing his meticulously crafted image. He constructed a dream team to help him along the way: key strategists James (Theo Germaine), McAfee (Laura Dreyfuss) and girlfriend Alice (Julia Schlaepfer), who will be Payton’s first lady. 

However, Payton’s clear path to the senior class office might be blocked by lacrosse star River (David Corenswet), who conspires with his ambitious girlfriend, Astrid, to run against Payton (Lucy Boynton). 

Off to the side is a subplot involving Zoey Deutch and Jessica Lange in a variation of the Munchausen by proxy story of Hulu’s Emmy-Nominated “The Act.” Lange plays the monstrous grandmother of Infinity Jackson (Zoey Deutch, whose disposition closely resembles that of Gypsey Rose Blanchard), a student with leukemia whom Hobart is determined to recruit as his running mate to get the sympathy vote he lacks. 

In its form, the show resembles a hybrid of the creator trio’s Glee, 1999 film Election, Broadway hit Dear Evan Hansen and a hint of The Act with the Infinity subplot. Quite frankly, “The Politician” lacks a personality of its own.

Netflix

Furthermore, with a wandering focus, “The Politician” simply does not come together as a clean vision. There are wild tonal swings from irony to utter sincerity, with an occasional musical number (which made no sense to me at first, but I guess you don’t hire Ben Platt and not ask him to sing). Yet despite Ben Platt’s beautiful voice, the series ultimately has too much plot and churns through it far too aggressively. 

Not to mention the majority of the cast who are meant to play high school students are over 25 years old. They would be more convincing playing 30-year-olds than 18-year-olds. However, the plan for the show is that each season will surround a different campaign in Payton’s ascension to the presidency, so the age disparity between the actors and the characters they are meant to play actually makes sense. 

I continued to watch the first season all the way through because of the show’s insightful commentary on the cultural moment. At most times, Payton seems more like a projection of a politician rather than an authentic person; he is an empty suit.

While the series is mostly about Payton, it is also about all of the people around him — people of color, women, and the LGBTQ+ community. They struggle with mental illness and social rejection, and they are passionate where Payton is a little too practiced. Yet it is this specific quality of Payton’s that makes him more acceptable to society.

In this way, “The Politician” is not really about politics at all, but how inauthenticity has become standard in the corridors of power. It’s a show about what happens when an entire culture decides that some voices matter more than others, even if those voices belong to empty suits. 

Season one of “The Politician” is streaming on Netflix.

  • Story
  • Acting
  • Technical Quality
  • Enjoyment
  • Impact
4.1

Summary

 Payton Hobart (Ben Platt) is a wealthy student from Santa Barbara, California, who has wanted to be President of the United States since he was only seven years old. First, however, Payton must get through the most precarious political hurdle of all: Saint Sebastian High School. In order to become Student Body President, study at Harvard and continue on his path to the White House, Payton must outsmart his ruthless classmates without sacrificing his meticulously crafted image.