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Friday, August 17, 2012

Political Animals is tawdry fun (and James Wolk still makes my raspberry swirl)

I've been meaning to blog about Political Animals, USA Network's six-episode "limited series event" starring Sigourney Weaver, since it debuted last month. But it's been a busy summer and I haven't had the time - until today. So here is what I think about the series:

Tawdry. That's the word my partner felt best described the show while we were watching the first episode. I would say it is tawdry "fun" because we both continue to enjoy this down-and-dirty soap opera.

What if Hillary Clinton had divorced Bill, had twin sons instead of Chelsea and had decided to run against Barack Obama again this year? This is the main story of Political Animals with the always fabulous Ms. Weaver giving a great performance as former First Lady and current Secretary of State Elaine Barrish. It's so nice to see this talented actress getting such a juicy role to play.

The award for Best Scenery-Chewing Performance has to go to actor Ciarán Hinds (whom I previously enjoyed as Julius Caesar on HBO's Rome). As former womanizing President Bill - I mean Bud Hammond, he is a hammy hoot, but his over-the-top performance does turn the show into a cartoon at times. The character of Bud is an acquired taste that is best viewed in moderation.

The award for Best Scene-Stealing Performance has to go to Academy Award-winner Ellen Burstyn, whom I've loved in so many films - The Last Picture Show, The Exorcist and Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore just to name a few. She is a total delight as Elaine's boozy, outspoken mother, Margaret, who in one episode informed her daughter that she looked shitty in all black. You gotta love her!

I liked handsome actor Sebastian Stan as the Mad Hatter earlier this year on ABC's Once Upon a Time - and he is equally good as T.J., Elaine's openly gay but very troubled son. However, it's too bad that the show's gay character is the most depressing to watch as he steals checks from his own grandmother and overdoses on drugs. But at least we get to see him make out with other guys. I do wish T.J.'s secret affair with a married Republican Congressman - with "the best abs on the Hill" - had lasted longer than only a flashback sequence. It was an interesting storyline that reminded me of GOP Congressman Aaron Schock, who enjoys flaunting his own abs. But Mr. Schock is a single straight guy - who just happens to like wearing white pants with a turquoise belt and a pink-checkered shirt.

I've been a fan of 27-year-old James Wolk, who plays Elaine's straight son Douglas, ever since I saw him on FOX's short-lived drama, Lone Star, in 2010. The gorgeous actor's smiling face and hairy chest made me all hot and bothered back then - and he is still quite yummy today. Mr. Wolk has also had some of the show's best lines while Douglas is having sex with his fiancée Anne:

"There has to be a rule about discussing my mother while I’m inside you" and "Are we having sex or am I parallel parking?"

This brings me to my least favorite character - boring and bulimic Anne. I have nothing against actress Brittany Ishibashi, who is fine in the role, but Anne has had nothing to do except throw up. So I was pleased to see that the character finally got a good scene in the most recent episode, in which she and Margaret bonded while smoking some weed together.

But I prefer Douglas with Susan, the newspaper reporter. These two have great chemistry - especially in last Sunday's episode when they had sex for the first time after getting drunk together during a plane trip. And I've liked actress Carla Gugino ever since she played Sydney St. James during Falcon Crest's final season back in 1989-90.

Political Animals' most fascinating relationship is between Susan and Elaine, who have tentatively become friendly after many years of Susan writing negative stuff about Elaine.

I must mention the excellent supporting cast, which includes Adrian Pasdar as President Paul Garcetti, Dylan Baker as the nasty Vice President, Roger Bart as the White House Chief of Staff, and Dan Futterman as Susan's boss and former boyfriend. The show has also featured some groovy guest stars, including Eric Mabius (Ugly Betty) as a reporter whom Susan had sex with, Vanessa Redgrave as a lesbian Supreme Court Justice, and the wonderful Blair Brown (whom I adored on the 1987-91 series, The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd) in a flashback as Susan's now deceased mother.

As long as creators Greg Berlanti and Laurence Mark keep balancing all their "serious" drama with a healthy dose of outrageous humor - like the scene in which Bud punched the Vice President in the Oval Office - I will keep tuning in. Political Animals is almost as funny and unbelievable as our current Presidential election - but none of the candidates come close to being as cute as Mr. Wolk.

And, finally, I can't wait to see this Sunday's season finale, which has been advertised as "the most shocking hour of television this summer". How can you resist such a tantalizing come-on? Let's hope Elaine and her dysfunctional family are brought back for more tawdry fun and games in the future.

My Grade: A-


Blobby said...

I want to like Political Animals more. Sigourney Weaver is great. That guy who plays her ex is HORRID....just bad acting. I can't believe he was Dumbledore's brother!

But the show quickly deteriorated to a bad version of 'Dynasty'. That's a shame.

Marc said...

A BAD version of Dynasty? I think eventually Dynasty became a BAD version of itself - and I still loved it. Political Animals works best when it isn't trying to be a "serious" drama and just entertains us with over-the-top soap opera twists and turns. People fighting in the Oval Office and making love on planes - that is fun stuff to watch - at least for me. If it gets renewed, I hope the show becomes more Dynasty-esque!

BikeGuy said...

I dunno Marc - I expect more of Weaver than to become Krystal Carrington. They were one wedding in Moldavia away from a complete meltdown. I was hoping for more of a 'West Wing' vibe, but soon expected bad body doubles to be fighting in the reflecting pool on the Mall.

Marc said...

Hey, BikeGuy, I don't think there's any danger of Ms. Weaver's Elaine morphing into Dynasty's Krystal (and she is a far better actress than Linda Evans) - but since I'm much more of a Dynasty fan than a West Wing one, I'm hoping for more soapy plot twists if it's renewed.