This weekend, I watched the pilot episode of USA’s new miniseries, Political Animals. The word “politics” is a double-edged sword for me; I know that as an adult, understanding the politics of our respective countries is important, but mostly it does nothing more than frustrate me. Maybe the networks recognize that politics upsets many viewers, thus the insane amount of police procedurals and medical dramas and lack of political series on the boob tube currently. When I think TV and politics today, only one show comes to mind—Scandal—and its more drama than politics.
If not evident from my earlier summer posts, I love the USA Network. And when I saw the previews for the new miniseries, Political Animals, and saw the star-studded cast, I knew that I’d have to give it a try. Now, I didn’t watch it live; I don’t really watch any TV live, unless it’s a sporting event. But I did add the new drama to my DVR queue and watched it seven days after its original air date.
So what is Political Animals? Let’s start with this question: who does everyone think of when we say former First Lady and current Secretary of State? Did everyone answer Sigourney Weaver?
In the new six-part miniseries, Sigourney Weaver plays Elaine Barrish, a recently divorced former First Lady and current Secretary of State fighting to keep her family and her insane position in the U.S. government intact. I think we all know who this sounds like, but let me add that Ms. Weaver herself has stated on talk shows that she is not playing Secretary Clinton. Plus, the Barrish family is not the Clinton family, nor is it any one particular former President’s family. Instead, the creators took bits and pieces from many different White House families, as well as created a fictional component, and the Barrish clan was born.
The USA network is known for its characters and Political Animals is no different. Elaine Barrish is a strong, female lead. She graduated first at her law school and received a ten-minute standing ovation after her commencement speech. Despite her husband’s adulterous ways, she stood by her man throughout his political career (including his path from Governor to President of the United States). And, most importantly, she more than challenged the Democratic male candidate throughout the presidential primary race before graciously stepping down.
Following her concession, Elaine asked her husband for a divorce. It wasn’t until her separation from the former President that her popularity really soared with the American public, and the President-elect recognized this. Secretary Barrish stated in the pilot episode that she did not want to be the country’s senior-most official dealing in foreign policies, but when the President of the United States calls for you, you answer.
Strengths aside, Elaine Barrish also has her flaws and weaknesses. When in a stressful situation, the Secretary lights up a cigarette. I can’t remember the last time I saw a character light up on screen. In the “olden” days, characters smoked on television all of the time—but not today. Additionally, despite her divorcing the former President, Elaine still has the rare tendency to run back to him when the going gets tough. Sometimes a person needs the familiar warmth of a loved one, former or current—it’s a human response.
In addition to Ms. Weaver, Political Animals also stars: Carla Gugino, a reporter who hasn’t been kind to the Secretary over the years; Ciaran Hinds, the former President and the Secretary’s ex-husband; Adrian Pasdar, the current President; Dylan Baker, the current Vice President; James Wolk, the Secretary’s son and Chief of Staff; Sebastian Stan, the Secretary’s other son and first openly homosexual child in the White House; and Ellen Burstyn, the Secretary’s mother. Now that’s a cast!
Besides the cast and characters, the series also has drama.
From a political standpoint, the Secretary works feverishly to save three American journalists falsely imprisoned and convicted in Iran as spies. As if the scandal wasn’t enough, she learns that the President and his sleazy Chief of Staff have known about the Iranian government’s requests and tried to handle it on their own, without giving into the demands of the Iranian President. Keep in mind, I have only watched the first episode…
From a personal standpoint, the Secretary’s family is not-so-perfect either. We all know her husband has flaws—her main reason for divorcing him was his many years of infidelity and his ego. The Secretary’s one son, played by James Wolk, seems perfect—he’s clean cut, extremely intelligent, and engaged to a beautiful woman. His fiancé also seems perfect, but she is secretly battling her own demons with bulimia and her infuriation with her future husband’s loyalty to his mother. And the Secretary’s other son, played by the adorable Sebastian Stan, attempted suicide a year earlier and the family covered it up—or so they thought. Anyone in politics should know nothing is sacred, not even the near death of a child—not to the media anyway. Additionally, he is addicted to drugs. He’s been to AA and has a sponsor, but the recent refusal of his parents to fork over the cash for him to open a restaurant/bar, and the national coverage of his suicide attempt, has pushed him over the edge.
Along with the drama, Political Animals also has moments of pure comedic genius. Bud Hammond (Ciaran Hinds) and Margaret Barrish (Ellen Burstyn) have some of the funniest lines on TV. I watched this episode with my parents, and even my father asked which network we were watching—not because we’re prudes, we’re Texans and language does not offend us—but because the dialogue was definitely unusual considering television sensors today.
And speaking of dialogue, here is my favorite line from the pilot:
“Bitches don’t like to be called bitches. Us bitches don’t like that.”
~Elaine Barrish to Susan Berg (Carla Gugino) AND Susan Berg to her boyfriend’s mistress/blogger at The Globe.
I also really enjoyed it when the Secretary told her husband’s Secret Service Agents that if she was going to kill Bud (her ex-husband), she would have done it years ago. I don’t remember the exact quote, so I’m paraphrasing, but I think everyone will understand and appreciate it just the same. This line was quite funny when used in the context of the scene.
Lastly, I want to mention one final aspect of the story that I truly appreciate—the attempt at bi-partisanship. Despite the Secretary’s obvious affiliation to the Democratic Party (her husband was a Democratic President; she ran for President in the Democratic primary; and her dogs are named Teddy, Bobby, and Jack), she and her sons constantly reference Elaine Barrish’s love of elephants. C’mon, we all know what the Republican Party’s symbol is… the elephant.
So considering the network, the casting, the characters, the drama, the comedy, the dialogue, and the attempt at bi-partisanship, I can’t wait to check back in for the remaining five episodes. I’m kind of sad this is only a miniseries…
What do you think? Have you watched Political Animals? Do you want to? I’d love to hear from you!
Remember to check out my YA Mystery novel, Football Sweetheart… now available on Kindle!