Netflix’s ‘The Politician’ is campy, conniving—and I can’t get enough


Kamrin Baker

A poster for the Netflix show "The Politician"
Netflix’s “The Politician” is an overdramatic tale about high-schooler Payton Hobart (Platt), with dreams of becoming the President of the United States. Photo courtesy of Netflix.

Some minor spoilers for “The Politician” are included in this review.

In 2019, it feels easy to say some politicians are sociopaths. Payton Hobart (Ben Platt) turns the phrase into fruition in Netflix’s new eight-episode binge: “The Politician.”

“The Politician” is a delectable, bite-sized treat created by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan, who were the Three Musketeers behind “Glee.” Murphy is also known for his campy dramas “Nip/Tuck,” “Scream Queens,” “American Horror Story” and “Pose.” Apparently, the goal is a five-season arc where Murphy writes about Payton’s individual political campaigns, from high school celebrity to the Oval Office.

This show is no less theatrical than Murphy’s prior work, set in a Santa Barbara prep school where Payton Hobart dreams of being class president, and ultimately, President of the United States. He is used to getting everything he wants and will use his heightened ambition and authority to do so with little regard for ethics.

Before you get the idea that the show is a hammy Disney Channel spinoff with 30-year-old actors playing teenagers, hold that thought. The show begins with a content warning, advising the audience that some scenes may be disturbing or triggering.

It’s definitely disturbing.

The first episode ends with Payton washing blood into the shower drain; he befriends – and manipulates – a fellow student (Zoey Deutch) suffering by the hands of Jessica Lange’s disconcerting depiction of Munchausen by proxy; everyone is having an affair; someone’s adopted twin brothers are deadly abusers; suicide is a frequent topic of conversation; and somewhere in there, an individual is diagnosed with sepsis.

However, it’s also a comedy, and it’s not outrageously inappropriate for younger viewers. A review in the Guardian called the show “annoying,” and it definitely is. It’s supposed to be. Gwyneth Paltrow, Payton’s adoptive mother, is obnoxiously pretentious but seems to be the most sincere character. She cracks sour jokes: “Patricide is pretty on-brand for the twins” while still carrying a gorgeous entitlement in every step, (she is introduced painting a flawless portrait of a Middle Eastern child).

The supporting cast is equally loud. Payton’s closest friends, Alice, McAfee and James, (Julia Schlaepfer, Laura Dreyfuss, Theo Germaine) don hypnotic colors and patterns and follow frenzied side plots that add endless depth to their work as campaign managers. The sets and colors could lend themselves to a Taylor Swift music video—long dining room tables draw a framework for excess, Harvard admissions come knocking on doors asking for money, a man spends millions of dollars buying jewels off of his divorcee. It’s a puddle of bile, made entirely of splendor, luxury and privilege.

And somehow, I couldn’t help myself from hitting “next episode” eight consecutive times.

While the slew of key characters seem exclusive and over the top on the surface, the casting inclusivity is the antonym of that. Characters with disabilities are represented well and LGBTQ characters easily outnumber heterosexual roles. Payton himself is presumably bisexual and has a pivotal relationship with one of the men in the show, while also seeking intimacy with women.

Our lead cast also seems to know they’re caricatures of a deplorable illness of affluence and detest almost every ounce of their lives, all while constantly delighting in the wonders of opulence. “Sure, I’ll buy you a Disney cruise,” “Meet me at the stables,” “I want to get into Harvard on my merits alone.”

“The Politician” is an overwhelming carnival of conflicting ideas and identities, as Payton dreams to elevate his status but must do so by growing and changing to help his community. Murphy does an incredible job pitting those clashing case studies against one another and leaves the audience laughing, crying and thinking about who might get their vote.

Enjoy the fun-house mirror to our current political landscape and the biting storytelling that makes it impossible not to follow Platt’s commander in chief role to the very top.