POLITICAL ANIMALS: One Woman’s Journey To the White House (2012)

"Political Animals"
“Political Animals”

The tale may sound familiar, and in fact, the new series POLITICAL ANIMALS is eerily reminiscent of a well-known former president and his wife. But where the television series differs from its real world counterpart tale is its humor and charm. Lovingly and cleverly crafted by Greg Berlanti (EVERWOOD, BROTHERS & SISTERS), the series POLITICAL ANIMALS takes viewers into a world where politics is not just in one family’s blood, it is a calling of the noblest order. Rather than try to rely on such a pretentious theme, the show is smart enough to realize that what makes it so relatable and addictive is its willingness to poke fun of itself and the absurdity of what it seeks to portray while laced with a layer of poignancy that compels us to keep watching.

Starring Sigourney Weaver as Elaine Barrish, the show follows Elaine as she tosses her hat in the ring in order to secure a presidential nomination; then after a crushing defeat takes a position as Secretary of State working for her political competitor, Paul Garcetti (Adrian Pasdar). However, that is only the beginning of her story. After casting off the dead-weight of her husband that frequently cheated on her for years, Elaine not only seeks to carve out a political position of prominence, she chooses to show that she can do it on her own – without the assistance of her prominent and well-liked ex-husband

Paralleling Elaine’s journey is the story of Susan Berg (Carla Gugino), an investigative reporter who dogged Elaine and her ex-husband’s political careers, making a living off their public and private scandals. By rights, Elaine and Susan should be mortal enemies, but therein lies the surprise: neither got as far as they have without knowing the game they play; and at this point in their respective lives, they need each other. For better or worse, Elaine and Susan’s political and professional careers become intertwined and their ability to work together will be a test.

Further complicating things are those who make up Elaine’s personal world: her philandering ex-husband, Bud Hammond (Ciaran Hinds); her polar-opposite sons, Douglas Hammond (James Wolk) and T.J. Hammond (Sebastian Stan); her acerbic mother Margaret Barrish (Ellen Burstyn), and Douglas’ too-good-to-be-true fiancé, Anne (Brittany Ishibashi). They are an imperfect family straining under the weight of the political spotlight and pressured to hide their flaws, even from themselves

The show is at its best when it allows its female leads to shine. Sigourney Weaver and Carla Gugino are simply riveting to watch. Neither portrays a caricature and they bring the characters of Elaine and Susan to life by simply infusing each with a strong moral center and the uncanny ability to admit when they are wrong. There is no need for “scorched earth” tactics or petty vendettas when there is much bigger prizes that can be obtained by an newfound alliance. It is uncertain, uneasy and certainly one in which they should not be trusting each other, but because of the unique circumstances that cause their lives to intersect as such a pivotal juncture, their fates are thrown together.

This is the secret ingredient that makes POLITICAL ANIMALS exceptional; and if there is one reason to give POLITICAL ANIMALS a try, it is simply to see Sigourney and Carla on screen together. Trust me on this, they are the reason to watch.

Plus, it is pure fun to watch Ciaran Hinds portraying Bud Hammond, the larger than life ex-president who can get under anyone’s skin, both to galvanize and seduce. Ciaran and Sigourney are well-matched as they bring a level of humor to Bud and Elaine’s complicated and curious relationship. The biggest surprise is how well all the actors seamless blend together to make their onscreen personas believable and interesting to watch.

Make the time and watch the premiere of POLITICAL ANIMALS on Sunday, July 15th at 10:00 p.m. on USA Network. See if by the end you don’t feel inexplicably drawn to the characters and their outrageous lives. It curious and curiouser, and highly addictive.

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