I've previously stated that I'm more of a network TV kind of girl than a cable fan. I know it's not the "popular" or "sophisticated" thing to admit, but sometimes I prefer to be lightly entertained without getting too inside my head. Yes, I'm basically slamming network television as light and fluffy, while at the same time revealing I'm a bit of a wimp when it comes to all things gritty, but that's just how I'm programmed.
But if there was one cabler I'd kill to have access to, it would be USA Network (thankfully Bravo here in Canada picks up a lot of its shows). I find USA boasts the best of both worlds, a channel that can entertain without taking itself too seriously (see "White Collar," "Suits," "Covert Affairs," "Fairly Legal"). So I was a tad wary when I learned Sigourney Weaver was headlining a political drama centring on a character inspired by Hillary Clinton -- but I needn't have worried. "Political Animals" is fantastically entertaining, and in keeping with what you'd expect from the cable network.
It's more summer entertainment, and if anything, it's more soap than political drama, though that might be because of its home in Canada. Its ads for "Dallas," and now "Political Animals," seem like they're cut from the same cloth. But it could also be because the series comes from executive producer Greg Berlanti, who brought us "Everwood," "Dirty Sexy Money," "Eli Stone" and "Brothers & Sisters" (FYI, with the exception of "B&S," all former favourites).
If you're not a fan of cursing, then the first moments of the show -- after we're introduced to the Hammond clan -- might be a turn-off (though if need your mouth washed out with soap every now and again, like myself, you'll be laughing hysterically). It doesn't have the f--kity-f--k traits of "Veep," but "Political Animals," with its expletives, political incorrectness and all, is definitely worth your time.
Weaver plays Secretary of State Elaine Barrish, a former first lady and failed presidential candidate working for Paul Garcetti (Adrian Pasdar), the man who defeated her, similar to Hillary Clinton. But unlike Clinton, Elaine has dumped her cheating husband, former president Bud Hammond (Ciarán Hinds) who, two years later, has been reduced to a bit of a joke, or as one character eloquently put it, is "one sex scandal away from 'Dancing With the Stars.'" Ellen Burstyn takes on the saucy old lady role (usually reserved for Betty White or Cloris Leachman) as Elaine's mother, Margaret Barrish, while James Wolk and Sebastian Stan round out the Hammond family with Wolk playing elder son, Douglas, who is Elaine's chief of staff and whose fiancée (Brittany Ishibashi) has a secret (eating disorder), while Stan plays homosexual son T.J., an addict whose own secret (attempted suicide) was outed in the media.
My favourite part of the show might be everyone's least. Carla Gugino plays the only non-Barrish/Hammond character, but it is her hopefully blossoming kinship with Elaine that I look forward to. Gugino plays hungry reporter Susan Berg, who begins the series as the family's number-one foe but eventually becomes an ally. I've always loved Gugino (yes, I was one of the 14 people who tuned into "Karen Sisco" and "Threshold"), and she and Weaver match up perfectly. I believe that one day, these two women can be friends (or maybe more of a mentor/mentee relationship).
It's not the classiest political show out there; rather, it's more of a bubbly and glossy nighttime soap, but it'll still keep you tuning in because it's actually fun to watch. Sure, there was the subplot of the hostage situation in the Middle East (where one of Barrish's advisers, the character who has some of the funniest lines of the show yet whose name I don't know played by the actor I know from a million things but can not place for the life of me! - tells Elaine: "It's the Middle East. It's the diplomatic equivalent of the instructions from IKEA. It doesn't make any sense."), which is so similar to what Hillary went through, there's no denying the comparison. But that situation is as sombre as it gets.
Of course there were some cringeworthy moments, like when Barrish shows her support for Garcetti and the two do an awkward dance number (shudder), and I found it preposterous when the Russian foreign minister grabs Elaine's butt while she's delivering a speech to a room full of witnesses and reporters. But that scene is more than made up for afterwards, when she tells him in Russian that if he ever tried that again, "I will f--k your s--t up." And that's what makes Elaine amazing. Though she still comes in second to her drunk mother, Margaret, who refers to Susan as a "bitch with a capital C." Ha!
If that's not high-brow enough for your taste, then "Political Animals" might not be the show for you. But if you like your summer entertainment to be a little "West Wing" with a dash of "Dallas" and a really bad "SYTYCD" audition thrown in, then the six-part miniseries (That's all? Boo!) is the perfect way to wind down the hot months.
"Political Animals" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on Bravo in Canada and USA in the US.
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