Judge Gordon Sullivan notes that many politicians are hard-headed enough to be taken for mineral.
Politicians are a breed of their own.
Despite the fact that digital distribution and the long tail of DVD releases ensure that a lot of shows live on long after they're cancelled or complete their run, networks seem to be getting more and more cavalier about dumping shows quickly. Political Animals is positioned oddly in this landscape. It started out as an avowed miniseries of only six episodes (itself a rare thing these days, especially without a precedent in the form of history or a novel to rely on), but despite decent ratings and rumors of a possible regular season, Political Animals wasn't picked up. Though some fans might pine for a longer-form version, these six episodes show the series got a good run.
Political Animals follows Elaine Barrish (Sigourney Weaver, Aliens), a former first lady who is now the Secretary of State (after losing her party's nomination for president). Throughout the six episodes of this miniseries, Elaine must balance her family issues (which include a son with drug problems) and political crises.
As a rule, politics has been a man's game for most of human history. First this prejudice was enshrined in law, but even once women were ostensibly invited into the political sphere it has still remained an old boy's club. Fiction, however, has also loved to play with the notion of women in power, representing them in much greater numbers than in reality. As one example, 24 gave us a female president years before Hillary Clinton came the closest any woman ever has to being the "leader of the free world." It's inherently dramatic stuff—for over a century our culture has assumed that men take the public sphere while women rule the domestic, so when a woman dares rise to office she's immediately in conflict with everything that culture tells her she should be—balancing public life with domestic duties while remaining politically savvy and likable enough to get elected is a terrific feat.
What's amazing is that Hillary Clinton has largely managed that feat. She has weathered scandals and emerged from her status as the "bitch behind the Clinton throne" to be seen as a politically savvy, respected (if not likable) woman who ran a credible campaign to be president. Of course Political Animals isn't about Hillary Clinton. Oh no. Because Elaine has two sons instead of a daughter and was a governor instead of a senator. What's remarkable about Political Animals is that it scratches an itch that many viewers will not have noticed. After a solid decade of hearing about Clintonian indiscretions, old Bill has fallen remarkably silent and stage-managed a beautiful retirement for himself. Political Animals goes out of its way to wonder what it must be like to have a former first lady in a new administration juggling her family's history and her own political ambitions. If the answers are more melodramatic (and, it must be said, formulaic) than the reality probably is, Political Animals can be forgiven for being a guilty pleasure take on the Clinton legacy.
Like the recent House of Cards, Political Animals is well aware that a solid cast is what sells this kind of venture, and giving a decent cast scenery chewing roles guarantees at least minimal watchability. I suspect at least part of the reason that Political Animals won't go to a regular season is that its cast would price it right out of profitability. Sigourney Weaver doesn't try to ape anything about Hillary Clinton, and instead brings her own no-nonsense charm and gravitas to the role. Carla Gugino is perfectly cast as the veteran reporter, and Ellen Burstyn proves she's always dependable given acerbic dialogue (and a bit of a drink). Ciaran Hinds is an unlikely choice for Elaine's ex-husband (and former president), but his grizzled good looks speak to both the pressures of office and his likely history with women.
The DVD is decent, though far from spectacular. The six episodes are given standard 1.78:1 anamorphic transfers. They all appear to be up to contemporary broadcast standards: generally bright, clean, and with a bit of polish. Detail is fine, colors are well-saturated, and black levels are consistent. No serious artifacts crop up to mar the image. The Dolby 5.1 Surround tracks are similarly fine. Dialogue is clean and clear and well-balanced with other sounds. There's not a wealth of directionality, but that's not surprising for a political drama.
The only extra is a set of "unaired scenes," which appear to have been cut for time more than anything else.
Of course, Political Animals is a soap opera we admire more for its sometimes-goofy contrivances (Twin sons! One of whom is openly gay!) and winning dialogue rather than its dramatic impact or historical import. I, for one, wait eagerly for the day in which the definitive book is written on the Clinton family, but Political Animals provides an amusing fantasy in the meantime. Those looking for deep insights into politics or hard-hitting exposes on the sins of the White House will not find it here. Similarly, those who have no sympathy for Ms. Clinton might be unimpressed by the generally positive portrayal of her doppelganger.
Taken as a political soap opera, the six episodes of Political Animals pass by in a whirl of solid acting and good dialogue. Definitely worth a rental for fans of the actors or anyone interested in the melodramatic side of politics.
Give us your feedback!
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Deleted Scenes
Review content copyright © 2013 Gordon Sullivan; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.