‘Political Animals’: A Hillary-ish madam secretary, with even more bite

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Washington should feel flattered by the attention it's been getting from television in the past few months, most of it surprisingly good.

HBO's movie adaptation of the 2008 McCain-Palin agonistes, "Game Change," was a fine bit of reportorial theater-in-the-round for election wonks, but the real springtime blossom was the apolitical comedy series "Veep," also from HBO, starring Julia-Louis Dreyfus as a neurotically egocentric vice president with animosity to spare. To those two we should add the ridiculously guilty pleasures found in ABC's "Scandal" (from "Grey's Anatomy" creator Shonda Rhimes), which nimbly turned the dark art of political crisis-management into a soapy form of camp featuring that rarest of broadcast creatures: the strong, black female lead.

Hank Stuever

Hank Stuever is The Washington Post’s TV critic and author of two books, “Tinsel” and “Off Ramp.”


Victories all, in one way or another, and it's worth noting that each hinges on telling its story from a woman's point of view. Maybe this was the secret all along to making a good "Washington" TV show. Our town's most interesting characters are the women, not the men.

"You know, I am just sick of it all," confesses Elaine Barrish Hammond, the Hillary-esque secretary of state and former first lady played with delicious determination by Sigourney Weaver in USA's fun, fizzy "Political Animals," a six-part miniseries that begins Sunday night.

"I am sick to death of the [B.S.]," Elaine confides to her chief-of-staff son, Douglas (James Wolk), behind closed doors. "The egos and the men. I am sick of the men. Just one time — just once — I would like to accomplish something in this city without having to spend all my energy navigating the shortsighted, selfish, self-involved and oh-so-fragile male egos that suck up all the oxygen in this town. It makes me so sick, Douglas, so sick I could puke for days."

So there! "Political Animals" comes from creator Greg Berlanti, whose previous work includes some niche favorites ("Everwood," "Brothers and Sisters") and a couple of under-loved attempts, such as "Eli Stone" and the quasi-Kennedyesque past-becomes-future drama "Jack and Bobby."

Here, Berlanti and his cast waste no time reveling in material that is extra-buttered Washington popcorn. Although the world is not yet clamoring for a strictly biographical Hillary Clinton miniseries (since the story is clearly unfinished), the time is definitely ripe for some fictional workout. 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" is helped enormously by the fact that, after a lifetime spent on the frozen-food aisle, Hillary Clinton herself has become hip of late, partly for her inexhaustible efforts as secretary of state, but also for reasons that will remain forever intangible. After years of not liking her as a wife or politician, America finally warmed to Hillary as a stern diplominatrix in Chanel sunglasses. (For proof, look no further than the "Hillz" texting meme that caught on a while back.)

Source : washingtonpost.com

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