Political Animals, a USA Network mini-series, will premiere on Sunday night at 10 pm.
The six-episode drama is about Elaine Barrish (Academy Award nominee Sigourney Weaver), a divorced former first lady who lost a presidential race, but is now Secretary of State. While primarily a universal drama about family dynamics, Political Animals also calls attention to crucial shifts in American politics in recent years.
Elaine tries to take care of foreign affairs while keeping her family together. Her family includes ex-husband Bud Hammond (Ciarán Hinds), the womanizing, but adored former president; her son Douglas (James Wolk), the Chief of Staff with political ambitions and a perfect fiancee; and younger son TJ (Sebastian Stan), the first openly gay son in the White House who abuses drugs. Her mother Margaret (Ellen Burstyn), a sharp-tongued and often drunk former Las Vegas showgirl, lives with them, too. The political family faces the same conflicts as an average American family.
Between her professional and familial responsibilities, Elaine must survive the political minefield of the media world. A young, ambitious journalist, Susan Berg (Carla Gugino), has spent most of her career undermining Elaine. But she becomes confused about her goals as she gets to know the family better.
The mini-series is almost metacritical in scrutinizing the media’s portrayal of politics. Almost all the trailers begin with the Secretary slamming the press: “If I read half of what people wrote about me, I wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning” or “[Interviewer:] It is reported that you have a rather large ego. [Elaine:] Oh, I don’t think ego has anything to do with it.” One preview is a series of short interviews with each character to introduce us to the family -- as we were watching not a TV show, but a NBC interview. With a hyper-sensitive online and broadcasting industry that uncompromisngly scrutinizes politicians, this year's election may see more media involvement than ever. By focusing heavily on the press and consciously comparing the TV show itself to the media, Political Animals calls attention to how journalism and entertainment shape the actions of public and personal lives of politicians.
If it wasn’t obvious already, Elaine is based on Hillary Clinton. The fictional Secretary not only has the same résumé and philandering husband as our favorite diplomat, but also bristles at reporters’ speculations about another presidential run. Elaine is bitter that she lost the last election because “the country didn’t want to sleep with her,” reflecting the reality of sexual politics in 2008. Like Hillary, Elaine seems reluctant to run again, despite skyrocketing approval ratings that would land her in office. In reality, the most powerful woman in Washington has become more popular and respected than ever before, and may symbolize a shift in how we view women in American politics.
Political Animals portrays political life as a struggle. A “survivalist instinct” drives these politicians, their families, and these journalists through their tough professional and personal lives. “Most of life is hell: Dreams don’t work out, hearts get broken, people let you down,” Elaine tells Susan in a vulnerable moment. “But you won’t get to the next great moment if you don’t keep going. So that’s what I do. I keep going.” If nothing else, the sympathetic TV show will offer a more complex portrait of the relationship between politics and the media and public and private life.