'Political Animals': What the Critics Are Saying
Political Animals premieres on Sunday on USA Networks with a lot of buzz: it's a six-episode series created by Greg Berlanti and starring Sigourney Weaver as Elaine Barrish Hammond, a pantsuited former First Lady who ran for president and becomes Secretary of State. Cue the Hillary Clinton comparisons.
Actor Ciaran Hinds portrays the role of philandering ex-president Bud Hammond (whom Elaine decides to divorce) while actor James Wolk plays the Hammonds' son and his mother's chief of staff. The couple also have another son, a troubled, openly gay aspiring nightclub owner played by Sebastian Stan.
Another important role in the limited series is actress Carla Gugino as Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Susan Berg, who covered the Hammond White House and became famous for writing mostly nasty columns about the family, particularly about Elaine.
See what the critics are saying about Political Animals below:
The Hollywood Reporter's Tim Goodman points out some problems with the series, writing: "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."
Goodman also compares the new drama to the famously maligned miniseries The Kennedys, saying: "This is where Animals tries to cement itself early on, but 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)."
Alessandra Stanley from The New York Times says: "This half-comic, half-serious soap opera à clef could be awful, but instead it is surprisingly fun: a fictional look at Mrs. Clinton that blends what-if alternative history with wish-fulfillment fantasy: if only she would."
Washington Post's Hank Stuever observes, "At its best, Political Animals delves deeply into the unknowable: Why would a first lady remain with her husband after his Lewinsky-like dalliances in the Oval Office lead to permanent shame? Where does ambition overtake emotion — and common sense? What does this resiliency look like when no one else is around? At times, Political Animals is as satisfying as Curtis Sittenfeld’s 2008 novel, American Wife, which imagined the interior life and thoughts of a Laura Bush analogue."
"Political Animals verges right up to the edge of ludicrous with the right combination of salty-sweet and silly-smart," Stuever continues. "In just two episodes, it exhibits better writing, stronger acting, cleaner momentum and more confidence than most new shows ever find. If the secretary of state’s dysfunctional family and bizarro politics become too much to bear, then, happily, it’s over after six episodes."
Like Goodman, the Los Angeles Times' Robert Lloyd compares the series to TNT's Dallas: "Not even deep down, this is a family drama, more Dallas than The West Wing, a high-class, relatively naturalistic, behind-closed-doors soap opera that plays in fairly obvious yet also fairly affecting ways with the space between public face and private pain and is made highly watchable by an excellent cast that finds the human among the hokum."
Maureen Ryan from the Huffington Post calls the series "energetic" and "delicious" and emphasizes that "Political Animals is another show that takes it as a given that women are every bit as consumed by ambition, sexual jealousy, professional gamesmanship, insecurities and energetic optimism as any guy at the top of his field."
USA Today's Robert Bianco begs to differ: "So what you're getting is what we've come to expect from USA of late: an easy-to-watch light entertainment that goes down relatively painlessly but that is nowhere near as sharp or as on-point as it needs to be. The surprise in this case it that it also seems to be woefully underfunded; scenes are underpopulated, and many of the sets have the hastily thrown-together look of a bad '70s miniseries."
But Matt Roush from TV Guide notes that the series is "(m)ore fanciful than HBO's The Newsroom, and less pretentious in its deluxe melodrama, Political Animals is a welcome escape from the current campaign grind, leaving us already hoping for a second term."