Why does The Politician idolise one of TV’s most insufferable characters?

Ryan Murphy's latest series is infuriatingly ill-judged, says David Craig.

The Politician (Netflix)

**This article contains some spoilers for season two of The Politician.**

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What would happen if the characters on Glee banded together to launch a political campaign for a young billionaire? Netflix’s The Politician, a strong candidate for the most annoying scripted series on television. (Yes, Netflix counts as television.)

There are numerous ways in which this show strikes a truly bizarre note, but let’s start with how it glorifies everything wrong with the landscape of modern politics – chiefly, that the privileged few can get a substantial leg up on everyone else. Ben Platt plays the “protagonist” Payton Hobart, a young man from an extraordinarily wealthy background, who has always dreamed of becoming President of the United States. We’re expected to support this aspiration, despite the character existing in a complete moral vacuum.

Over the course of the series, Payton does plenty of tearful naval gazing about whether he’s a good person, which usually ends with him acknowledging that he isn’t but choosing not to do anything about it. Rather, he continues doing heinously selfish things in pursuit of personal gain including, but not limited to, perpetuating child abuse and committing electoral fraud. In spite of this, the show depicts him as a generally sympathetic and inspirational figure, one who rallies unsettling levels of dedication from his cult-like campaign team.

Speaking of which, his closest political allies are a bunch of fast-talking sociopaths, so singularly focused on getting their fearless leader elected that they’ve sacrificed any semblance of individuality. The prime example of this is Payton’s committed (or possibly brainwashed) girlfriend Alice, who emotionally admits to deferring her entire life to him in order to fulfil “his dreams”, something that has robbed her of any ambitions of her own. In one fleeting moment of clarity, it looks as if she may finally emancipate herself from his grasp, but alas, she dutifully returns half an episode later with little justification.

These characters exist solely as extensions of Payton, which might be intended as satire on how politics takes over people’s lives, but it doesn’t play this way against the show’s sickeningly sincere idolisation of the man himself. This creative choice feels born out of an obvious infatuation with Ben Platt, the show’s creative team so enamoured that they even shoe-horn in extended musical numbers for him to perform, no matter how out of place these seem among the rest of the story.

The Politician season 2 full cast (Netflix)

In a similar manner to Murphy’s other Netflix series, alternate history drama Hollywood, The Politician looks at the world through rose-tinted glasses and, in doing so, lacks any meaningful bite. The show acknowledges that politicians often back ideas based on what will get them votes rather than what they believe in, but attempts to spin that in a positive way. Likewise, its attempt at exploring the rise of populist leaders is pitifully shallow, extending as far as a half-baked subplot where Gwyneth Paltrow basically achieves world peace.

It’s no coincidence that the only interesting episode of The Politician’s second season pulls focus away from the principal cast, in favour of an ordinary mother and daughter living in New York City, who clash over their contrasting views. While a similar chapter in the first season served only to call the electorate stupid through excessive masturbation humour, this is a more thoughtful effort which actually does a decent job examining the generational divide.

It’s somewhat astounding that The Politician got made, let alone that it was renewed for a second season. A television series that champions the efforts of an egocentric billionaire as they bulldoze their way into politics is so utterly tone-deaf in our current landscape that it beggars belief. One assumes that this was an attempt at satire before the creators fell in love with their lead actor. As it stands, the only joke is on Netflix for paying for this mess. Twice.

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The Politician is now streaming on Netflix – check out our lists of the best TV shows on Netflix and the best movies on Netflix, or see what else is on with our TV Guide.