Summer 2012 Review: Political Animals

23 Jul

Political Animals in an USA miniseries about a Hillary Clinton-like figure who is now Secretary of State and is facing tricky situations both in her job and in her personal life.  We know she’s a Hillary Clinton-like figure, because the character, Elaine Barrish, played by Sigourney Weaver, lost in the Democratic primary for President, and was married to a two-time former President and former Southern governor, and she was appointed Secretary of State after supporting her former rival in the general election.  You don’t get much more similar than that.  On top of that, she divorced her husband right after her campaign ended, but like Hillary, her overall popularity went way up after she became secretary of state, and the election was over, as she showed a much lighter, more human side of her personality.  Rumors were prevalent that she might want one more shot at the white house.

After an opening scene in which she concedes the election and tells her husband she wants a divorce, we skip forward in time two years.  She’s the high-powered secretary of state.  One of her sons is her chief aide, and is having an engagement party.  Her other son, who made waves as the first openly gay child of a serious presidential candidate, (Didn’t Dick Gephardt have a gay daughter? Maybe?  Or maybe he didn’t count) is more troubled, having had serious drug problems, and having attempted suicide in the recent past, which, up to now, the family has been able to keep out of the press.  At the engagement party, Elaine will be seeing her husband for the first time possibly since the divorce, and she’ll also have to deal with her possibly drug using son who wants money from his parents to start a club.

Oh, and while all this personal drama is going on, there’s an international crisis as well.  Iran has arrested three American journalists and is rushing them through a show trial and sentencing them to death.  The only way this can be stopped is for the president to come to Iran, something the president, played by Adrian Pasdar, who finally got the job he ran for in Heroes (as Nathan Petrelli), steadfastly refuses to do on principle.  Elaine finds out that this whole stunt is a ploy from the Iranian president, who wants to improve relations with America, to please his own hard-line supporters, and that the president knew about it, but didn’t agree with the plan, and she’s got to figure out another more creative way to convince the president to try to save these journalists.

While all this is happening, a journalist, played by Carla Gugino, managed to get an exclusive series of interviews with the Secretary of State by threatening to reveal Elaine’s younger son’s suicide attempt, which makes Elaine none too fond of her.  Gugino has her own problems as well, trying to get hard news, while competing with a younger cutesy twee female reporter who writes about less-lofty subjects, and who she suspects may be sleeping with her boyfriend, who is also her editor.

I’ll give it this – it’s certainly, at least, at this early juncture, less “blue skies” than the traditional USA show.  I would imagine we’ll have a fairly successful and happy ending, that won’t exactly be like the end of a Wire season, but for now, she has more serious problems in one episode than characters on some other USA shows deal with in a season.  Sigourney Weaver does her best, and she’s a less instantly likable character than most USA leads, which is also to the show’s credit, I suppose, if we can compare things to their network mates as signs of interesting-ness.

Here’s the issue, as it is with so many shows that get lost in the shuffle.  It’s not bad.  It isn’t.  But it isn’t great, and it doesn’t really look like it has the potential to grow to great.  If it sounds like something you’d like, then, well, it just may well be.  It’s quite watchable, and if the whole thing aired some lazy Sunday I’d consider not leaving the couch for a couple of extra hours.  But there’s no element in the show that reaches out and grabs you and says, well, that’s why you need to see Political Animals.  Most shows don’t have this, so I don’t mean to be harsh; but it’s worth saying.  I’m very mildly interested in what happens next.

Will I watch it again?  Probably not.  It’s not bad, but it’s not quite good enough to go out of one’s way to watch (I do watch a couple other shows that are probably around this level of quality, but these aren’t must watch, they’re just personal preference).  As I said, maybe one day if they’re all repeating and I’m tired or hung over.

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