Political Animals

USA Network's bid for a serious, Hillary Clinton-inspired drama provides mere soap in place of beltway intrigue.

In televisionm there's often a disconnect between image and content. You see a promo, get excited, then have a problem reconciling it with what you're actually seeing.

Consider USA Network's Political Animals miniseries, what the channel describes as a "highly anticipated Limited Series Event." And yes, it capitalized the last three words. Because it wants you to know this will be Important.

USA certainly has brought out the big guns. Sigourney Weaver headlines as former first lady Elaine Barrish Hammond, who stuck by her enormously popular husband and president, the philandering Bud Hammond (Ciaran Hinds) then made a close but unsuccessful run of her own to be the Democratic nominee for president, eventually becoming secretary of state. There are obvious Bill and Hillary Clinton similarities throughout, and there's probably an excellent series about female politicians and the struggles and double standards that confront them, but Animals is not that show. No, what Animals is trying to do is take The West Wing and turn it into Dallas. And if you don't like Dallas, that can be a real letdown. You get the feeling, as a political family tale, it might not even be able to meet the low-bar standards of The Kennedys (you remember -- Katie Holmes, Greg Kinnear -- yeah, that one).

Where you expect gravitas, you get little bubbles, which makes sense on blue-skies USA. But trying to make Animals significant by calling it a "highly anticipated Limited Series Event" doesn't automatically make it All the President's Men. Besides, the miniseries was created by Greg Berlanti, whose work includes Brothers & Sisters, Dirty Sexy Money and Dawson's Creek. He's very good at a certain kind of smart, sexy soap -- particularly one with family issues -- but probably less likely to deliver an Aaron Sorkin-style dissection of political minutia.

Weaver is both great and believable as Hillary -- whoops -- Elaine. And Hinds, great in pretty much everything he does, lays a Southern accent on as outsized as Texas. The other actors are fine as well, but every time you want them to be involved in a political story, you get eating disorders and coke addictions instead.

USA sent only one of the six episodes to critics in advance -- it's likely that one episode is more than enough to prove Animals, "Limited Series Event" or not, isn't going to be "highly anticipated" by political wonks.

Airdate: 10 p.m. Sunday, July 15 (USA)

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