Magazine article Variety

Television: Political Animals

Magazine article Variety

Television: Political Animals

Article excerpt

TELEVISION: POLITICAL ANIMALS (USA)

(Limited series; USA, Sun. July 15. 10 p.m.)

Director; Greg Berlanti; Cast: Sigourney Weaver. Carla Gugino, Ciaran Hinds

Ostensibly designed to push USA closer to FX-borderingon-IIBO territory, "Political Animals" is an odd duck. The attention netting premise yields a limited series barely a step NBOrod from Mill and Hillary < 'lint on - with Sigourney Weaver as a former first lady turned secretary of state - although it's really a mash-up of past first families, and initially more preoccupied with what transpires between the sheets than within the halls of power. As such, the super-sized opener contains promise, but primarily feels like someone's idea of an edgy concept - not so much wild as the hollow product of a skilled taxidermist.

Written and directed bj Greg Berlanti (and tonally more similar to "Brothers & Sisters" than his other TV works), the opening moments race through introducing Elaine Bardali (Weaver) as she's conceding the presidential primary race, before Hiking a job in the new admin ist ration.

The flights of fancy, however, go beyond the Clintons: Blaine divorcing her philandering husband, Bud (Ciaran Hinds, expanding his resume from "Rome's" Caesar to a horny North ( 'anilina good ol· boy), which wins her hug«· public sympathy; and the couple's two sons: Douglas ("bone Star's" James Wölk), his mom's right hand; and T.J. (Sebastian Stan), the first openly gay son of a silling president, whose various issues include a drug habit.

The pilot also incorporates a Maureen Dowd like newspaper columnist, Susan Berg (Carla Cugino), who has lambasted the couple, and uses dirt on T.J. to gain access to Elaine. If journalists trade in favors all the time, Susan's leverage comes perilously los lo blackmail so much so thai she's a poor choice to sermonize about journalistic ethics, which doesn't stop the character from doing just that.

Clearly, Berlanli's conceit was to lake lots of political stories with which we're all familiar - philandering husband, suffering political wife, troubled kids of the rich and famous - and use them as a highprofile jumping-off point. Yet while Aaron Sorkin brings a similar approach to "The Newsroom," where that show becomes a surrogate for the writer's ideal worldview, "Political Animals" employs hostage crises involving Iran as little more than a showy backdrop for salacious family drama. …

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