After his sudden rise to fame with his portrayal of Evan Hansen in the hit Broadway musical, “Dear Evan Hansen,” Ben Platt has redirected his talents toward a new platform of entertainment, namely the ever-popular genre of “Netflix originals.” Ditching his feeble persona as Evan Hansen, Platt has taken on the ambitious and steadfast character of Payton Hobart, a wealthy teen who is adamant about winning class president in the politically driven melodrama, “The Politician.”
“The Politician” does not stray too far from the basic algorithm of other popular Netflix originals like “Dear White People” and “Insatiable,” in that it inherits a tone that is playful and flamboyant with very grim undertones. What sets “The Politician” apart, however, is its star-studded cast and chaos-ridden yet surprisingly charming story line, which effectively reveals the inner-workings of an extreme go-getter. Although the show can certainly seem kitschy and aggressive at first glance, it does have many redeeming qualities that make it a powerful narrative reflective of the struggle of making a person stand out and figuring out what makes them special.
Though the series has plenty of sub plots and sudden dramatic twists, the overarching story line involves high school senior Payton Hobart and his entourage of similarly high-achieving and high-strung friends running a campaign for Payton’s presidency amidst the tragic death of Payton’s main competitor, River Barkley (David Corenswet). Alongside Corenswet and other talented actors, like Lucy Boynton and Zoey Deutch, Platt had the opportunity to perform alongside acclaimed actress Gwenyth Platrow throughout the series, which was a welcome addition to the cast of relativity new actors. Platrow and Platt, who play mother and son, have perhaps the most stable relationship throughout the whole show, and fully support each other throughout wavering allegiances and countless back-stabbings.
The general reviews for “The Politician” have not been overwhelmingly negative, per say, but rather dull with the busy plot line and messy attempts at high drama. Although the plot could get quite muddled as the series progressed with competing personal narratives, I personally thought that the fever-dream-esque bizarre traits of the show was what made it so perfect. At such a troublesome time in politics, it was refreshing to see what a true enthusiasm for leadership and change looks like.
From the perspective of an actual high school student (it is worth noting that every single “high-schooler” in “The Politician” looked ridiculously old, nice try Ben Platt) the portrayal of the all too familiar do-whatever-it-takes-to-get-to-Harvard type was pretty accurately represented, and seeing the downsides of having such a type-A personality exposes how hard kids push themselves to succeed, often in unhealthy ways. In some ways I think many students can identify with some aspect of Payton’s personal journey — sacrificing mental wellness and losing yourself to look good on paper. Payton has good intentions and wants to bring about change but is poisoned by a toxic environment and a crippling attempt at unachievable total perfection. However, unlike Payton, in this journey to success most students don’t find themselves in a cut-throat race for class president involving a severe case of Munchhausen-by-proxy and a murder attempt involving rabies and a BB gun.
Besides the more emotional aspects of the show, the directing was very well done, and the wide shots and quick transitions were very reflective of styles used by acclaimed directors like Wes Anderson and Edgar Wright. This style added to the whimsy and faux serious aspects of the show, making scenes more visually appealing and fast-paced.
Though there is some truth in what the critics say about “The Politician,” I think that for the most part, it is a charming and chaotic piece that accurately tells the story of a boy who turns on his moral values and faces the consequences, but rises from the ashes and reclaims his title as a natural leader dedicated to provoking change.