Upon first viewing, USA’s hotly anticipated drama event Political Animals makes one wonder whether a racy portrayal of a former First Lady who fails as a presidential candidate only to be asked to be the country’s top diplomat is a history lesson America is ready to experience yet again on the small screen. However, this thinly veiled mockudrama of the Clinton entourage is fresh, enlightened and has just enough sex appeal to keep those overworked congressional aides and political reporters tuned in for the six-part event which debuts next Sunday. This isn’t to say the rest of the populace won’t be drawn to the show, but those who have worked in media politics will truly appreciate the show’s comic (though slightly exaggerated) representation of the complex relationships that exist behind the doors of the nation’s elite and those tasked with corralling them.
Helming the cast as Secretary of State Elaine Barrish is an intrinsically sarcastic, no-bullshit Sigourney Weaver, whose struggle to balance her tumultuous career aspirations and her exasperating family forms the backbone of the series. Along the way she must deal with the devious but disarming White House reporter Susan Berg (Carla Gugino), as well as her ex-husband and former beloved president Bud Hammond (Ciarán Hinds) who strikes a caricature of a less-intelligent Bush with a good measure of Clintonian Southern charm.
We’ll end our comparison to that political dynasty there; any attempt to relate Chelsea to the remaining family would be futile, as her established public persona largely consists of that ill-fated NBC correspondent gig last year — even the Obama girls have surpassed her at this point. In comparison, the Hammond offspring, the aspiring Kennedy-esque Douglas (James Wolk) and flamboyant T.J. (Sebastian Stan), both highlight in dramatically different ways the struggle of being raised in the public eye; this is especially true for the latter, who considers himself to be his parents’ election wildcard for being the first openly gay child in the White House.
Margaret Barrish (Ellen Burstyn), Elaine’s matriarchal alcoholic mother, and James’ stunningly sexy fiancée Anne (Brittany Ishibashi) add further depth to the estranged family as they navigate the power struggle between Elaine and Bud that kicks off the pilot after Elaine’s loss of the nomination and subsequent acceptance of her current position.
Nevertheless, the heart of Political Animals remains the series’ ability to convince the viewer of the human element in bureaucratic families. We’ve done such a fantastic job of idolizing the great American ménages that it’s easy to forget they are as fucked up (or more so) than those across from us at the dinner table.
While we’re disappointed this miniseries is only slated for a half dozen episodes, we’ve been tipped off by USA that this could be a repeat player if the cards are right. Check back with us next Wednesday for star Brittany Ishibashi’s Femme on Fire interview.
Political Animals premieres Sunday, July 15 at 10/9c on USA.