Rewatch: “Political Animals”


Real life politics may not be as interesting to some as that of what’s created for television. TV has a long history of crafting political shows or shows with major political issues in it as a central storyline. It’s hard to pull off at times too. There’s a kind of balancing act between how political the show gets and stays, and when things become personal.

For some, like USA network’s “Political Animals”, making sure the correct balance between politics and what’s personal to the characters, actually works and is fun to watch, over and over again.

This political drama series stars Sigourney Weaver (“Vamps”, “The Cold Light of Day”), Carla Gugino (“HitRECord on TV”, “Man of Steel”), James Wolk (“Mad Men”, “The Crazy Ones”), Sebastian Stan (“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”, “Labyrinth”), Brittany Ishibashi (“Castle”, “Emily Owens M.D.”), Ellen Burstyn (“Louie”, “Petals on the Wind”), and Ciarán Hinds (“Game of Thrones”, “Frozen”).

This political drama mini-series was created by Greg Berlanti (“The Tomorrow People”, “Arrow”).

The series premiered on July 15, 2012 and ran for six episodes, concluding on Aug. 19, 2012.

The series would later be recognized with two Golden Globe nominations, 5 Emmy nominations and one win for Burstyn as Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie, and a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination among several other nominations and one win.

Family. Family is everything. Sure there are tons of shows that have various family elements, but most don’t make them cornerstones of the entire series. To me, like a few other shows and movies I’ve enjoyed, family is a major component and is executed so well that I can’t help but be pulled in and love every minute. You have the love, laughter, drama, support and disappointment, among so many common themes or emotions in any family. Each moment in this family, including those featured in flashbacks, are just as dramatic as the next. For me, this is the thing that allows for there to be a kind of relatable feeling. We all have families of some sort and understand these types of feelings, even if we’re not political figures or public figures. Family keeps the show grounded, and it’s better for it.

The politics of it all. Not terrible or at all dull. While it may not be “The West Wing”, it’s still a fascinating thing to watch. Probably the closest anyone may come to seeing anything behind the scenes in politics, that isn’t a documentary released later on, even if it appears a bit too dramatic and soapy. Surprisingly, this is also part of the fun of this show, and I would hope so, as it is called “Political Animals”. If that wasn’t the draw from the get go, then I don’t know what was.

Witnessing how the characters navigate through the political world, in whatever way they must, depending on the situation they’re in, is fascinating. And it’s not just the political figures, it’s the view from the side of a reporter. We get to go inside a fictional newspaper and see how things function there while covering a political figure. There’s so much that occurs on the political level that it makes it easy to want to stay with these characters and see how they each deal with the situations they’re in. How can they work together to solve a crisis, or get to the bottom of why they can’t agree on something? Personal feelings sometimes enters into it. With the personal feelings driving the political issues at time, it helps to show that even those elected to office are still human and rely on emotion. It’s not just experience and what statistics says, that drives a policy decision.

The characters are pretty well developed. They each carry aspects, that somehow, we can probably relate to. While I enjoyed every single character, even if they were slimy, there’s three that really stood out as refreshing. Gugino’s character Susan Berg, is a reporter, who looks like she’ll do just about anything to write a piece, get her name on the byline, and make waves. While some of this is true, you feel for her because she’s still just another person. Her personal life is wonderfully explored, flashbacks too, and instead of thinking she’s just some ruthless woman, she given a level of compassion that could have easily been skipped. I instantly fell in love with her, and wish she could have been around longer, but that could be because I’m biased towards journalists. They’re fascinating people, some of whom, actually do good work.

Weaver’s character Elaine Barrish, of course you’re supposed to like her, she’s the lead character. But it’s not because she is, that makes you care or like her, it’s because she’s a strong, smart, and somewhat independent woman. With all that, she’s a mother, which gives her a lot of skills when it comes to empathy and compassion. She’s definitely the kind of mother anyone would want to have, or see more of in our own. It’s easy to get behind her because she has all the components and isn’t just some power hungry woman that people dislike.

Lastly, there’s Burstyn’s character, Margaret Barrish. What makes her a great joy to watch and like, isn’t just because she’s the grandmother, she’s just honest about everything. I don’t think this frankness is because she’s an older woman and can say whatever she wants, but more because that’s who she is all the time. Her entire life. We see that really well in one scene when she’s having an argument with Weaver. That same scene, like so many, also shows just how far and strong family bonds can be. They’re mother and daughter, and still, at their respective ages, get into fights over things, but still know how to come together for what matters.

The most puzzling thing about this entire series is why it didn’t do better. It was just as provocative, smart and entertaining as a lot of the other shows on the air, then and now. Not to mention, the cast itself. Most are well recognized actors. That alone, should’ve been able to draw bigger numbers than it did. Puzzling. The network that decided to go with this show was USA, and it has pretty good track record. However, at the same time, this isn’t first series to suffer from this same kind of approach. Back in 2007, albeit slightly more successful, “The Starter Wife” premiered as a mini-series, but then came back, for something like 10 episodes, as a series. That didn’t last long, it’s sad to say. I’m unaware of many other series that have gone this route, so it’s almost not surprising that “Political Animals” suffered the way that it did. It’s a shame, as it could’ve been a nice five season, or longer, show. Plenty of stories to tell too and many interesting characters to include as it went on.

For me, and this happens occasionally with traditional shows that get cancelled unexpectedly, is the unresolved feeling. Things on “Political Animals” were left wide open. So much was clearly in the works. Which is the next annoying thing about this shows failure, producers and network execs were clearly expecting this to be far more successful than it was. If they’d truly planned on an open and shut, one and done “limited” series, they’d have closed storylines and probably given it a few more episodes, which would’ve been nice in general.

For instant gratification (or be enticed even more), the trailer:


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