Season 2 of ‘The Politician’ is eccentric, endearing political satire

season 2 the politician netflix
Netflix/Courtesy
THE POLITICIAN (L to R) JULIA SCHLAEPFER as ALICE CHARLES, BEN PLATT as PAYTON HOBART, LAURA DREYFUSS as MCAFEE WESTBROOK, THEO GERMAINE as JAMES SULLIVAN, and RAHNE JONES as SKYE LEIGHTON in episode 2 of THE POLITICIAN. Cr. COURTESY OF NETFLIX/NETFLIX © 2020

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Grade: 3.5/5.0

In the opening credits of “The Politician,” a lifeless statue of Payton Hobart (Ben Platt) is carved to perfection, forming and reforming into a pristine and idyllic figure. Garnished with a preppy blazer and an American flag pin, the sturdy and emotionless being comes to life, transforming into a clean political candidate. 

These opening credits alone set the stage for both seasons of “The Politician” — Ryan Murphy’s latest project aimed at exploring corrupt political candidacies within the United States. Though season two of “The Politician” fails to grow as a series or make any larger arguments within its highly political atmosphere, it excels in embracing its eccentricity as it molds Payton’s chaotic personal life to fit the rigid constraints of a political persona. 

Season two of “The Politician” follows Payton, an entitled and wealthy college student running against long-time senator Dede Standish (Judith Light) for a spot in the New York State Senate. Utilizing his high school campaign team, Payton digs into his deep-rooted ambition in order to begin his professional career. In search of a path to the White House, Dede and Payton’s aspirations guide them through a tumultuous campaign full of dirty political schemes, publicity stunts and blatant blackmail. 

Throughout his career, Murphy has shown his strength in hooking viewers into series that rely on shocking twists and randomly embedded showtunes. Through utilizing satire and complicated characters, Murphy is able to strengthen the binge-ability of his narratives, something season two of “The Politician” perfectly models.

This season thrives on hyperbolic drama, showcasing the inner workings of a political campaign within a soap opera-esque string of events. This certainly works in the show’s favor, keeping viewers on the edge of their seats as Payton aims to understand his role as a clean politician in the public eye and as a distraught 20-something year old behind closed doors. 

Payton’s flood of ambition and corrupt moral conscience is what makes his character both incredibly unlikeable and extremely endearing. Payton is rich, privileged and arrogant in every sense, yet his unfaltering stubbornness and strategic political prowess is what keeps audiences engaged with the chaos of “The Politician.” Platt, as usual, fits perfectly in Payton’s shoes, delivering an incredible performance that elevates Payton’s likeability and makes his problematic campaign surprisingly easy to root for. 

This season continues Payton’s arc from season one, highlighting the corrupt dynamic between his stability in the political arena and instability within his personal endeavors. However, as the story’s scale expands from a high school election to a state senate race, the ensemble behind Payton’s campaign gets pushed into the shadows, reduced to pawns in Payton’s political game. Though there are certainly moments that allow these characters to shine; the majority of the season is a face-off between Payton and Dede, never fully allowing complex characters such as Astrid, James or Alice to reach their full potentials. This is one of the season’s biggest disappointments, as it takes away from the dynamics and foundations of the first season’s camaraderie. 

“The Politician” stays consistent in its quirky tone in its second season, using dry humor and satire to progress its premise. This is certainly one of the show’s biggest strengths; it is seemingly impossible to look away from the overblown drama presented on screen, especially when Light and Platt are placed against each other.

As the episodes progress and the conflict between Payton and Dede thickens, “The Politician” explores the turmoil within a dirty political campaign. However, in an attempt to examine a wide range of topics — including “cancel culture,” climate change and media bias — in only seven episodes, it seems this season bit off far more than it can chew. 

Despite this season’s raised stakes, the show’s narrative feels surprisingly underwhelming given its huge potential. Without narrowing down on ideas for its seven episode time frame, the season feels incredibly surface level in its execution, serving as more of a filler for what’s to come in Payton’s future political endeavors if the show continues into a third season

In the midst of a rather chaotic election year, season two of “The Politician” highlights the humor within the innate drama of an American political campaign; but in sacrificing its potential with snuffed out characters and unfulfilled plot points, this season just falls short.

Sarah Runyan covers television. Contact her at [email protected].