The newest show by Ryan Murphy, the creator of the TV shows “Glee” and “Scream Queens,” has officially aired on Netflix. “The Politician,” a show about Payton Hobart (Ben Platt) and his high school presidential election makes one thing very clear; Murphy still has that same high school charm that he had working on his other high school hit TV shows.
The same can be said for Platt, the star of the Tony-winning hit musical “Dear Evan Hansen,” in which Platt played a teen in the titular role. This time around, Platt’s role doesn’t see much change compared to his previous role, playing a very similar character with similar opportunities to portray him. When watching, many of the events in the show that happen to Payton Hobart seem to mirror the life events of Hansen, therefore not allowing much space for growth between the two almost back-to-back roles. For instance, both characters experienced a suicide and suffered deep emotional trauma due to it.
The show doesn’t challenge much, not taking on any sort of ground-breaking new ideas. It does tackle teen suicide and the unfortunate trauma derived from it, as well as mental health issues. Unfortunately, most other topics it tries to take head-on, such as racial and gender diversity, crimes in politics, and LGBTQ standpoints, end up coming off cheesy and a little bit “in your face.” For example, when Hobart’s running opponent, River Barkley (David Corenswet), selects his running mate Skye Leighton (Rahne Jones), in the opening statement they say to the crowd, “Thank you for giving students at Saint Sebastian the historic opportunity to elect a gender non-conforming African-American to be their vice president.” While it was a great shot at trying to make an example of a moment to prove to viewers that this show was as inclusive as possible, it feels kind of forced, with Skye telling people that they’re African-American when it’s very clear. It seems more like the show is trying to convince the audience that it is, in fact, inclusive.
A consistent running theme throughout the show is mental health, and while many of the political topics are handled poorly, teen mental illnesses and trauma seem to be a little hit or miss, as they are often a sensitive subject. Within the first episode, River commits suicide and a funeral is held for him. It’s a touching scene in which Payton sings for him and most of the school seems to be there to pay their respects. This scene would’ve been very enjoyable, and is tear-jerking in the beginning, but at the end, River’s now ex-girlfriend, Astrid Sloan (Lucy Boynton), announces that she’ll be running in River’s place, garnering a gasp from the audience. It feels like forced drama into a scene that was sad and beautiful all on its own, and her announcement will be quickly regretted by viewers who were looking forward to a personal, private moment of peace for a short-lived character.
In the end, a short show about over-corrupted high school politics gained just a 57% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and that score is agreeable. While entertaining and opportunistic about teenage mental health, the show over-dramatizes high school politics. While there are many topics the show doesn’t handle very well, it makes a shot at discussing mental illness in teens, and has a firm grip on the corrupted world of politics, even if targeted at pleasing and relating to a bit of a younger audience. If handled differently, the show could’ve given a new audience a good view into the new stresses of high school and popularity at its finest, but this just wasn’t the case, and instead the show feels rushed. The writing has its moments, but overall, the slightly cheesy texture of the show can crush a few of those. “The Politician” deserves this just-above-average rating, and while it was entertaining to see characters in some of the everyday high school pitfalls, this show hit the wrong tone, and shouldn’t renewed for a second season.