Watching Political Animals with the amazing Sigourney Weaver in her TV series debut you can’t help but think back to the brutal and historic 2008 presidential election. No matter what the creators say (and lately they’ve been owning up to it more) Sigourney Weaver’s character Elaine Barrish is based on Hillary Clinton. It’s hard not to see the correlation and is disingenuous to deny it since the character is a former First Lady who ran for President and is now the hugely popular Secretary of State. The only differences between the two women — besides their hair color — is that the fictional version dumped her philandering husband (Ciaran Hinds) the day she conceded her race for the Presidency, and the character has two sons instead of one daughter.
The show is created by Greg Berlanti whose past show was Brothers & Sisters so you can imagine that there are many soapy elements in this six part series that begins this Sunday, July 15th at 10pm on USA. It’s not by any means perfect. The show also employs a bunch of annoying cliches that I really could have done without like for example the character of Anne Ogami, fiancé of Douglas Hammond (the older son played by James Wolk) played Brittany Ishibashi who comes across as the perfect mate. But she harbors a secret – she is bulimic. Perfect Asian girl who is not so perfect. Tired cliche. Even worse is that the younger son of the Hammonds, TJ. (played by Sebastian Stan) came out when he was a teenager in the White House is a hot mess with a substance abuse problem and a predilection for male prostitutes. Please.
A big piece of the story is the difficult relationship between Secretary Barrish (wonder if she ever took her husband’s name or went back to it after she dumped him?) and a high profile reporter Susan Berg (played by Carla Gugino) who is going through a dry spell. Barrish hates Berg because Berg wrote a hideous book about her ex-husband’s affairs and won a Pulitzer for it. Berg wiggles her way in to shadow the Secretary for a big piece because she agreed to bury some damaging information on her younger son. The Secretary had no choice in order to protect her son.
The tete-a-tete between the two women illustrates the difficult relationship between the press and the politicians whom they cover. It is a delicate balance and is played out in this series in spades.
The show also illustrates two strong women of different generations at the top of their careers. I was nervous that Gugino’s character was going be the young post feminist writer who had her successes by tearing down women who blazed trails before her. But the show humbles her quickly (boyfriend/editor turns out to be a dick) which allows her to be redeemed in the eyes of the Secretary. So while the women started out as rivals we see them on a potential path towards working together.
We now live in a world where we see strong women characters on TV all the time. But seeing a woman play the person who most closely resembles the woman I voted for for President in the primary takes it to a whole different level. Watching Sigourney Weaver soar on screen (when was her last starring role of this kind in the movies?) made me whet my appetite for the day, which will hopefully be really soon, when we will have a woman President in real life so we don’t have to just imagine it on TV.