Monday, July 16, 2012

Political Animals on USA: A Review

Sigourney Weaver's acting is great, but her clothing is all wrong.
Coming on the heels of Veep and The Newsroom (both HBO), USA's entree into the realm of politics and journalism falls a little flat, but that may be somewhat due to saturation and timing.

Political Animals with Sigourney Weaver as the Secretary of State formerly married to a philandering president (Bill Clinton with LBJ's foul mouth and slovenliness), has neither Aaron Sorkin's dialogue (Newsroom) nor Julia Louis-Dreyfus' comedy and sarcasm (Veep). Rather than the hopefulness and pride conjured by Sorkin's work, this screams frustration, true to the gridlock of today's Washington where nothing ever gets done. Without inspiration, Political Animals is a Plain Jane drama lacking oomph. Compared to The West Wing, the gold standard of political television, if not all drama on TV, it's sorely lacking.

Created by Greg Berlanti (Brothers & Sisters, Dawson's Creek), Political Animals resembles the creator's earlier work.  The show follows Weaver's Elaine Barrish Hammond who is two years beyond losing her party's presidential nomination, divorcing her "Bubba" and becoming Secretary of State.  She's now juggling worldwide diplomacy, politics and motherhood.  Hammond has two sons.  One is a coke addict suffering from the stigma of being forced to come out of the closet as the teenage son of a president; the other is his mother's Chief of Staff, about to marry a seemingly perfect young woman who is secretly bulimic.

Barrish and her ex continue to tussle, in and out of bed.  She's also sparring with Susan Berg (Carla Gugino), a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who forces Barrish into week-long access by threatening her with exposing her son's failed suicide attempt.  Berg believes she is smart and above board, but she's also living with her editor who gives the big secret away to his young mistress, a dim-witted blogger.  That teaches her that a Pulitzer Prize does not make one brilliant - and it certainly doesn't make one a perfect journalist.

When the boyfriend spills the beans to his girlfriend, Gugino is crushed and takes a thrashing from Elaine Hammond.  Somehow, however, the two come to terms, which is the presumed set-up for the rest of this "limited series." These two women will continue to cross paths as each tries to right the world's wrongs.

Berlanti and the rest of his creative team will have to right some wrongs of their own, if this series is going to last.  The show needs to be tighter, crisper, and, overall, a lot more compelling.  There are also some small items that should be addressed.  For one, Sigourney Weaver's outfits are all wrong.  If I were Berlanti, the second thing I would do would be to hire a new costumer.  The first would be to hire new writers.

By my count there was only one truly good line in this installment.  In one of the latter scenes, a foreign diplomat tells Barrish: "The Middle East is the diplomatic equivalent of instructions from Ikea.  None of it makes sense."  More of those lines, please.

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