Ben Platt’s performance saves an otherwise mediocre show in The Politician

The Politician is a TV series that is brand new to Netflix.

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The Politician is a TV series that is brand new to Netflix.

Ben Platt’s performance saves an otherwise mediocre show in The Politician

The last couple years have been very polarizing in American politics. So it seems appropriate that we finally have a Netflix original that seems to exist exclusively to make fun of current-day America. 

The Politician, released on September 27, 2019, follows Payton Hobart (portrayed by Ben Platt, of Dear Evan Hansen fame) as he runs for his high school’s student body president. He has the help of his friends, McAfee Westbrook (Laura Dreyfuss); James Sullivan (Theo Germaine); and Alice Charles (Julia Schlaepfer) during his campaign. He choses Infinity Jackson (Zoey Deutch), a girl who has cancer, as his running mate. However, things start falling apart almost immediately and Payton, who plans to become President of the United States, realizes that things are going to be a lot harder than they seemed. 

The first issue with this show should be obvious right out of the gate — the aforementioned actors range from 24 to 31 years old. They are supposed to be playing high school seniors. The only actor who convincingly plays a high schooler is Zoey Deutch with Infinity Jackson. All the other characters would seem more at home on a college campus.

That is not to say their acting is bad — all of the actors published on Innovative Actor’s Studio are solid in their roles (and Ben Platt is phenomenal). Platt sells every line so well that even when the plot makes no sense, you can buy it. He pretty much perfected the art of playing a teenager who is falling apart mentally during his two-year run of Evan Hansen in Dear Evan Hansen. But at the same time, he’s starting to be too old for that role. (On that note, it is also important to recognize how graphic this show can be. Suicide, mental illness and attempted murder are key components.) 

Unfortunately, the plot itself is also a let down. It seems like the creators (Brad Falchuk, Ian Brennan and Ryan Murphy) smushed together the plots of The Act and 13 Reasons Why and then decided it needed more politics. Of course, that is not an issue on its own. Those concepts — munchausen by proxy, mental health, teenagers making mistakes — can be really compelling narratively. But when you take into account that some of the subplots are nearly nonsensical and many characters do complete 180s halfway through the series, the really interesting premise starts falling apart. It sometimes feels like the writers had a new plot twist that they wanted to add and then molded the characters around the plot and not the other way around. 

This show wastes so much potential. They shove entire subplots that could last seasons into each episode. They ignore their own character development for the sake of cheap plot twists. They also managed to kill off the character who Payton had the most chemistry with halfway through the first episode. (Then they continued to have him pop up throughout the rest of the show. Ben Platt seeing and interacting with the ghost of his not-boyfriend? That sounds familiar.)

However, The Politician does have one huge redeeming factor. It’s a show about politics and it was enjoyable. And right now everything is so polarized, so scary, that the idea of watching something political for fun seems impossible. Netflix was correct to describe the show as “irreverent.” 

That’s the thing. I would not recommend this show, not really. It didn’t live up to its potential and it’s barely coherent. However, I did like it. And I’ll definitely watch another season if they make one. 

(I would, however, recommend listening to the soundtrack. Listening to Ben Platt sing will never be a bad decision.)