Review: 'The Politician - Season Two' is Darker, Wilder, Funnier

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday July 9, 2020

'The Politician' is back for another campaign on Netflix
'The Politician' is back for another campaign on Netflix  

Netflix did not make review screeners available for Season Two of Ryan Murphy's rich - if sometimes overstated - satire "The Politician," hence reviews could only appear after the fact.

If you've been on the fence about how to vote with your feet (or your remote), there's no need for further hesitation: Season Two is, if anything, even more stuffed with winking caricatures, wild twists and turns, and white-hot intrigue. But Murphy - together with co-creators Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan - is careful not to overlook the serious side of the issues the series engages with: Young voters, who are all too often MIA; the divide between today's socially- and environmentally-conscious Gen Z with the "Boomer" they like to toss dismissive "Okays" at; the fact that in the Trump era, facts and politics are increasingly distant from one another; the weaponization of social media, the 24-hour news cycle, and hair-trigger scandals; and the way that money and celebrity have tainted the democratic process. They litter the season with pointed insights in a manner at least as surgically precise as Republican voter suppression efforts target minorities.

Season One ended with main character Payton Hobart (Ben Platt) throwing his hat into the ring for New York's 27th District in a race for a seat in the state senate, running against longtime incumbent Dede Standish (Judith Light). To that end, Payton has brought together the team he relied on to prevail in his hard-fought student body president campaign in high school: Campaign managers McAfee (Laura Dreyfuss) and James (Theo Germaine), savvy Skye (Rahne Jones), his girlfriend Alice (Julia Schlaepfer), and Astrid (Lucy Boynton), the girlfriend of his best friend River (David Corenswet), who committed suicide years earlier and whose memory still serves as a touchstone as Payton navigates a world of deep deceptions, high ideals, and pervasive cynicism.

Season One left things perfectly set up for what happens in the seven episodes of Season Two, in which Standish's status as one-third of a longtime throuple hits the headlines and becomes a cause celebre instead of a campaign-ending revelation, Standish's ruthless campaign manager Hadassah Gold (Bette Midler, fantastic in the role) hatches schemes that aim for Payton's jugular, and Payton and his team hatch equally brilliant, unorthodox schemes in their own turn.

Along the way, Payton's former running mate Infinity (Zoey Deutch), a former victim of Munchausen by Proxy and now a successful memoirist and social media influencer, lends her support - though at a cost - while both campaigns engage in a dizzying game of musical beds, with relationships and allegiances turning on a dime. But which relationships are genuine, and which are born of convenience?

Season One's funniest, sharpest episode focused on a disenchanted voter who saw both Payton and his rival as nuisances and fakes; a similarly scathing, uproarious episode features this time around, zeroing in on the generation gap between a Gen X mother (played by the wonderful Robin Weigert) and her idealistic, 20-year-old daughter (Susannah Perkins).

The season risks one or two twists too far - we're supposed to believe in a high-stakes game of Roshambo (also known as Rock, Paper, Scissors) as the season reaches a dramatic high point? Payton's beautiful and romantically nomadic mother (Gwyneth Paltrow) is hooked up with a billionaire and running for governor of California, a race that sucks all the oxygen out of Payton's own New York campaign? - but when it comes to satire (and certain reality-defying real-life administrations), the more outre, the better, so the best thing to do is just go with it.

Murphy has something of a reputation as someone who creates brilliant first seasons and then fails to live up in subsequent seasons (or, sometimes follow though at all; will there be a Season Two of "Feud" any time soon?). That's not really a very fair assessment; look at "Pose," and the checkered, but largely successful, run of "American Horror Story." Here, however, there's no need to debate. Season Two of "The Politician" outstrips its the inaugural batch of episodes in every way. Let's hope Murphy follows suit with a planned Season Three.

"The Politician - Season Two" is streaming now at Netflix.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.