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The Statesman


Shows like “The Politician” educate viewers on pressing issues through satire

Official poster for “The Politician,” starring Ben Platt. Produced by Gwyneth Paltrow, the show follows a group of students as they navigate the elections in the fictional Saint Sebastian High School in Santa Barbara, California. PUBLIC DOMAIN

Xenia Gonikberg is a freshman journalism major.

Unlike your typical sitcom or teenage drama, the Netflix original series, “The Politician” — produced by Gwyneth Paltrow — follows a group of students as they navigate the challenges of high school and the contentious elections in the fictional Saint Sebastian High School in Santa Barbara, California. The main character, wealthy Payton Hobart, played by Ben Platt, is going to become the president of the United States, but in high school, he is focusing his attention on running for student body president and getting accepted to Harvard University. 

While there are elements of high school drama, like cliques and bullying, it also provides insight into the mind of a politician on Capitol Hill, a residential area in Washington D.C. 

After watching this show, I think that it’s not only suspenseful, but it also provides a satirical yet realistic look at politics in the U.S. The show uses humor to comment on the socioeconomic and racial boundaries that are in place in government by creating characters that are diverse in terms of race and sexuality. It also addresses issues like mental illness in a realistic way, with many students dealing with things like depression, anxiety and addiction. If anything, this show is a commentary on how politicians are so focused on their own goals that they fail to see the plight of those around them. 

Politics is a very ruthless field, and “The Politician” exemplifies this in every aspect. It moves the focus away from adults and to teenagers. Many of the campaign promises that Payton and his rival, Astrid — one of the few other wealthy students at Saint Sebastian —  mirrors the promises politicians typically make to get votes. At first, Payton is willing to sacrifice his relationships in a bid for the presidency. However, after the suicide of River Barclay — Payton’s love interest and Astrid’s ex-boyfriend — Payton begins to question his motives and starts to advocate for things that the students want. Throughout the series, sexuality and race are prevalent, but in a way that doesn’t stigmatize or stereotype. For one thing, many of the central characters on the show showcase various sexualities and gender identity, like Payton’s running mate McAfee Westbrook, who is openly gay, and Skye Leighton, who is gender non-conforming. Even Payton’s sexuality is questioned throughout the series, with him hooking up with Barclay in the first episode but later getting into a heterosexual relationship. The show does a really great job of highlighting different classes, races, sexual orientations and abilities, which creates a much more accurate picture of modern America

The show is very liberal, its characters are used to comment on privilege and wealth inequality. “‘The Politician’ shows that all people from all walks of life struggle with the same issues of identity, authenticity and proving themselves,” Ryan Murphy, the show’s creator, said to BBC. 

My own personal feelings arose as I was watching this show. Most of the time it is meant to be satirical, but at the same time, they do cover a lot of real-world problems, which I really admire. Even the spoiled rich kids on the show had many layers to them, and as I kept watching, I kept wanting to know more. Everybody had a story to tell, which was why I was so drawn to the show. It is well-written, but it also has a variety of perspectives on the show, which is why the audience connects to it. Some aspects of this show can be compared to other Netflix shows like “House of Cards,” “Scandal” and “Dear White People.” I feel like this is a show that everybody should watch because of its satirical viewpoint of high school and its political themes.

This show, in its comparison of high school elections to Washington politics, displays an incredibly nuanced view of reality and the problems with society. More shows like “The Politician” need to be created because they help educate viewers on topics like mental health through a comedic lens, which helps the audience make connections between their own experiences and those of the characters.

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    Cara MeierSep 3, 2020 at 2:57 pm

    I just finished watching both seasons of The Politician. I thought it was an intelligent and creative show that explored some important ideas about politics, race, gender, environmental issues, age and class divide, and more. Therefore, I was surprised to read that most of the reviews published by the professional media were negative about this show. Frankly, I think they neglected to do a close examination of this show, and missed the satirical element of this show and instead only grasped a shallow face value. I think your review was the most insightful and on point for what the show was actually trying to do with it characters and plot.