We've already screened the pilot of Political Animals, the ambitious, much-anticipated miniseries that begins this weekend on USA. But is it worth your time? Here are some first impressions that might help you decide.
What’s the show, and when can I watch it?
Political Animals premieres Sunday, July 15 at 10pm on USA.
What's it about?
When it comes to being a Hammond, “Power runs in the family.” Political Animals picks up two years after former first lady Elaine Barrish Hammond lost her own bid for the presidency, divorced her philandering husband, and accepted the position of Secretary of State from the man who beat her during the Democratic primaries. It follows the public and private (which more often than not end up in the public) struggles of her family—Chief of Staff son Doug, politically irrelevant ex-husband Bud, and troubled black-sheep son TJ.
Who's in it?
The biggest name in the cast is Sigourney Weaver, of Avatar, Alien, and Ghostbusters fame; this is Weaver's first regular television series role as Secretary of State Elaine Barrish Hammond. I know, AWESOME, right? Playing her ex-husband, womanizing former president Bud Hammond, is Ciaran Hinds, who brought Julius Caesar to life in HBO’s Rome and whose film credits include Munich, Excalibur, and Road to Perdition. Rounding out the Hammond family are Sebastian Stan and James Wolk as sons TJ and Douglas, respectively, and Ellen Burstyn as saucy grandma Margaret Barrish. Carla Gugino, of Californication and Entourage, plays D.C. reporter Susan Berg, who won a herself a Pulitzer publishing scathing columns about the Hammond family.
Who's behind it?
Greg Berlanti is Political Animals' creator, executive producer, and writer. He also directed the pilot. His previous television experience includes work on Everwood, Dawson’s Creek, and Eli Stone. In 2010 he directed the romantic comedy Life as We Know It and co-wrote Green Lantern. Co-executive producer Laurence Mark is an acclaimed veteran film producer with credits that include Dreamgirls, Jerry Maguire, As Good As It Gets, and Working Girl.
Who's the target audience?
People who are curious as to whether USA Network can bring more to the table than buddy cop shows and lighthearted bromance. Spoiler alert: It can. People who miss The West Wing and are captivated by America’s “royal” political families, i.e. the Kennedy clan, the Bush family, and to an extent, the Clintons—actually, there are lots of nods to the Clintons here. Also, people who like to watch Sigourney Weaver be a HBIC (Head Bitch In Charge—a title I’m sure Elaine Barrish would gladly embrace) in everything she does.
What's awesome about it?
Admittedly, I had my doubts. The promos looked good enough, but I couldn’t shake the fact that I don’t exactly think of deep, meaningful television when I think of USA—though between this and the current season of Suits, the network is really starting to change my mind. Weaver is awesome, of course, but so is everyone else. There isn’t a weak actor in the house. And while the writing isn’t exactly on par with early seasons of The West Wing, it’s solid. There are so many awesome parallels in the pilot that I hope continue through the series— particularly those between Elaine and Susan and Anne and TJ.
Are there any not-awesome parts I should know about?
Despite the fact that various digs are made at the unflattering parts of Hammond family history, Elaine is presented—in the pilot, at least—as pretty much the only person in Washington, D.C. with principles and the last great hope for the American people. I’m willing to let it slide for now, but I’d like to see her end up between a rock and a hard place at some point during the series. Even Josiah Bartlet occasionally had to be “the bad guy” from time to time, you know?
Okay, but seriously, should I watch it?
Totally. The pilot moves fast, the characters are fascinating. Weaver is FIERCE as Elaine Barrish Hammond and while there COULD be some grumbles about whether or not Political Animals does feminism the “right” way, I believe it does it the honest way, with high hopes and constant tangles with the ugly side of reality. In fact, there’s a really great discussion between two of characters about what a woman like Elaine represents to young women. Keep an eye out for it!
Do you have a clip or a trailer I can take a look at?
As a matter of fact, I do:
What should I have on hand for my Political Animals viewing party?
Expensive scotch, OR if you’re feeling adventurous, margaritas made with Jack Daniels. You’ll understand about half an hour into the pilot.
Political Animals debuts Sunday, July 15 at 10pm on USA.