Elaine Barrish (Sigourney Weaver) is a former first lady who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic presidential primary against now-President Paul Garcetti (Adrian Pasdar). Garcetti is a lefty, transformative figure who, two years later, has found himself in economic turmoil and a belligerent Congress. Barrish, now the Secretary of State, divorced her ex-President husband, Bud Hammond (Ciarán Hinds), who was constantly cheating on Elaine. Hmm… To this painfully obvious non-allegory, we add a gay addict son, TJ Hammond (Sebastian Stan), an ambitious son Douglas (James Wolk) who is getting married to a bulimic (Brittany Ishibashi), and a reporter Susan Berg (Carla Gugino) who is following Elaine for an article.
I am aware that many people have views on Hillary Clinton’s not divorcing Bill Clinton when confronted (again) with infidelity. Either she was too weak to leave or too ambitious to leave. All that strikes me as pretty stupid. Like Barrish says, “There is no article, no book that can explain the complexities of a single marriage.” So, to my astonishment, to the question “Why’d you finally leave?” Barrish replies, “Because after 30 years…I finally had the strength to,” just moments before the complexity quote above. I don’t like that at all. It’s the kind of problem I have with the whole show—its lack of maturity.
That’s not all I don’t like! Weaver, though the best action heroine of all time, puts in some pretty weak work on the whole. There are good moments, no question, but she’s definitely acting down to the medium (television). Hinds is fine, except his North Carolina accent sounds a bit New Orleans to my ear and his semi-racist, incredible pomposity is a dumber caricature of Clinton than it needs to be. Why not make him actually smart? Because you have to write as smart as your characters are and unless you can fake it, which Greg Berlanti can’t, you’re left with a character that thinks it’s smart but isn’t. Actually, you’re left with an entire television show that thinks it’s smart but isn’t. And that’s too bad, really.
However, this is about politics and I like politics, so I find myself watching it and wondering if I’ll watch the next one. Sure, this is Brothers & Sisters (2006-11) with a smaller cast and a political backdrop, but I tolerated that show as well—that is, until someone’s sister turned out to be not their sister and she started a relationship with that someone who was a sibling as of, in their universe, a week prior. That is to say, it’s a prime time soap opera, like Ringer (2011) or Brothers and Sisters, which appeals to even my weak appreciation for the trivial machinations of low drama. I dislike it, but I watch. I guess this is what other people think about Real Housewives—this is my Bailey’s to their crystal meth.
For this reason, I cannot endorse Political Animals. Not when there’s great material out there like The Newsroom (2012) to enjoy. No, if you want to feed your political need, watch The West Wing (1999-2006), Veep (2012), or Yes Minister (1980-84) or harder fare, like The Contender (2000) or The Deal (2003). These are foods and foods are necessities, not guilty pleasures.