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Series / Political Animals

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Political Animals is a limited series on USA Network starring Sigourney Weaver as Elaine Barrish Hammond, an American former First Lady, politician, and Presidential candidate who is currently serving as Secretary of State. This may sound familiar. The show also follows her ex-husband Bud Hammond, a former Democratic President, their twin sons, the 3 minutes older T.J. who is gay and struggles with sobriety and the workaholic Doug who is devoted to working for his mother, as well as Elaine's mother, Margaret Barrish. The series follows the Hammond family through the travails of political intrigue and awkward family life.

As of November 2012, USA Network announced that, due to lower-than-hoped-for ratings, the show would remain a mini-series.

Tropes present in this series include:

  • The Alcoholic: Margaret (Elaine's mother) and her grandson T.J. both drink heavily throughout the series. Margaret rarely goes a scene without either having a drink in her hand or having one made for her (usually by T.J.). Her stories about her youth suggest she was a Hard-Drinking Party Girl, now grown into a snarky Lady Drunk. However, she highly dislikes the idea of a person getting themselves in deep enough to have an addiction, having witnessed Elaine's father self-destruct due to his drug addiction, and she bluntly informs T.J. that he's headed down the same path as his grandfather if he doesn't get a hold of himself soon. That being said, she has apparently struggled herself when attempting to abstain from alcohol in solidarity with T.J.
    Douglas: Last time you tried simpatico sobriety with T.J., you lasted about two hours.
  • All Gays are Promiscuous: T.J. uses a Grindr-like smartphone app to hookup with a guy in the first episode and has several other one-night stands, plus a longer-term affair with a married senator. However, the lesbian Supreme Court Justice is extremely committed to her ailing partner.
  • Alternate History: With the point of divergence sometime around in the '80s or at least 1992 at the latest. Bud Hammond's presidency seems to have replaced Bill Clinton's, and Hillary's turn as a Senator from New York seems to have been replaced by Elaine as Governor of Illinois.note  Also, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was was replaced by Diane Nash (who is the first openly lesbian Supreme Court Justice).
  • Ambition Is Evil:
    • Frequently discussed in terms of Elaine's ambition making her look bad because ambition looks better on men.
    • Georgia, the reporter whom Susan compares to Eve Harrington in the first episode, doesn't seem to care who she hurts to get established as a more serious reporter, although she's closer to Short-Sighted Ambition Is Evil And Stupid.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Bud Hammond. He has a pretty mean right cross, as the Vice President finds out. He's also responsible for pretty much all the scenery chewing in the show.
  • Broken Ace: Douglas appears to be the responsible and successful twin. He was his mother's campaign manager for her presidential run, is her right-hand man while she is Secretary of State, and is about to marry his beautiful and accomplished fiancee. However, he also displays serious self-doubt and anxiety and seems compelled to take on responsibility for his dysfunctional family's well-being. An argument with his father revealed that he feels responsibility for the failure of his mother's presidential campaign and he later reveals to Susan Berg that he's even having cold feet about his engagement.
  • Cigarette of Anxiety: Elaine breaks out the cigarettes when under particular stress from either her political career or family issues (which is often, given the nature of the series!).
    Margaret:You're smoking. Uh-oh. What country isn't going to exist by morning?
  • Deadpan Snarker: The whole family, but especially Elaine's mother, who especially uses this to dispense uncomfortable truths to the younger family members.
  • Fantasy-Forbidding Father: Inverted - Bud genuinely wishes his son TJ would find a career path that involves the piano, as it's clear that he enjoys playing, and it's far healthier than his other hobbies (like drugs and affairs with married men.) Unfortunately, TJ finds the notion of a stable, happy life boring.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Elaine's twin sons T.J. and Douglas, respectively. T.J. is the hard-partying and promiscuous sibling, whose main "work" shown during the series is trying to start a nightclub...which he can't fund without a loan begged from family members. Douglas, on the other hand, is busy with a political career as his mother's right-hand man (and formerly her presidential campaign manager), about to marry, and spends most of his time solving problems of the rest of his dysfunctional family. Interestingly for the trope, T.J. almost seems to resent his status more than Douglas resents being The Dutiful Son, believing he just needs a break to get his life together.
  • Heel–Face Turn: By the first season finale, Susan Berg has become a trusted confidante of Elaine's, despite having spent years trashing her family.
  • Irony: Elaine's mother is a cranky old Lady Drunk who lives by the Screw Politeness, I'm a Senior! trope, but she's arguably the most well-adjusted character on the show, consistently warning the others about the potential consequences of their actions (which they promptly ignore and get themselves into trouble), and she's the one person to know everyone's secrets and try to push them towards the right direction. She's pretty much the only character on the show who gives consistently sensible advice to the others.
  • Lady Drunk: Elaine's mom spends most of her time with a drink in her hand while she provides cutting commentary and snarky insight on the lives of her family and anyone else to cross her path.
  • Lens Flare: Used to indicate flashback scenes.
  • Mile-High Club: Susan Berg has sex on the Hammond's private jet...twice. Once with another reporter, and again with Elaine's son Doug, who's already engaged. When she confesses during a drunken conversation with Doug that she's had sex on their plane before, he is relieved to find out that it was not with his father, which was his first assumption.
  • My Own Private "I Do": Doug and Annie ("Plan First, Elope Later" variant), in the season finale. Subverted in that TJ deduces where they ran off to (from an earlier talk with Doug). As a result, the entire Hammond clan show up, with food, drink, and Secret Service agents in tow, and Bud performs the nuptials.
  • No Bisexuals: Throughout the series we see TJ making out with mostly men but is also seen kissing a girl. TJ himself confesses he sometimes sleeps with women and that "breasts are awesome" but still is labeled as gay.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed:
    • Elaine Barrish Hammond is a thinly-veiled Expy of Hillary Rodham Clinton and former President Bud Hammond of Bill Clinton, with a dash of LBJ for good measure, and the family dynamic off popular perceptions of the Kennedy family. Bud is seen at one point having dinner with a certain bald, bespectacled adviser of his who bears a resemblance to James Carville.
    • Furthermore, The Atlantic has drawn clear parallels between Susan Berg and Maureen Dowd (who famously used her column in The New York Times to call Hillary out on not calling out Bill on his infidelity).
  • No Party Given: Averted with a vengeance. These characters are clearly identified as Democrats.
  • Oh, Crap!: In the finale "Resignation Day," the entire newspaper staff stands stunned as they watch the breaking news that Air Force One has crashed and the President is presumed dead.
  • Precision F-Strike: With a Bilingual Bonus. After the Russian ambassador grabs Elaine's ass mid-press conference, she warns him - in subtitled Russian - that if he does it again, "I will f*** your shit up!"
  • Off the Wagon: TJ has been to rehab multiple times, we see him being sober for six months in the past and later again for three weeks before falling back into old habits.
    Douglas: What's next, are you gonna go back into rehab?
    TJ: (sarcastic) Because that worked so well for me in the past?
  • Product Placement: Skype seems to be the video-chat app of choice. It is not only used in multiple conversations between characters, with the interface clearly visible, but mentioned by name when characters are told that someone else is on the line calling them.
  • Real Song Theme Tune: The Kills, "Future Starts Slow."
  • Reasonable Authority Figure:
    • Oddly enough, considering he's sleeping with some of his employees, Susan's editor, Alex, otherwise tries to stand up for the journalistic standards of the paper. He objects when he suspects Susan's connections with the Hammonds may be biasing her journalism, and later, refuses to let Susan take the fall for him when Georgia retaliates over his refusal to publish Elaine's resignation letter.
    • President Garcetti and Elaine often have an antagonistic relationship, but he is usually willing to listen to Elaine's arguments and be convinced to do what's right.
  • Screw Politeness, I'm a Senior!: Elaine's Deadpan Snarker mother rarely lets minor details like politeness curb her tongue, to the point that her favorite "endearment" for her grandsons seems to be "you little shit."
  • Shout-Out: Adrian Pasdar's President character is a sleazy politician named Garcetti from Baltimore; this is almost definitely meant as a Shout-Out to Tommy Carcetti from The Wire, who goes from Baltimore City Council to Mayor and then finally Maryland Governor by the end of the series, and perhaps is a sort of exploration of what would happen if Carcetti were President.
  • Stepford Smiler: The Hammond clan is very much a Type A. Elaine even blames it for her losing the nomination, since unlike Bud, she doesn't believe in her speeches and is actually pretty misanthropic.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Elaine and Susan. They lie to/conceal from/regularly betray each other, but at the end of the day still cautiously extend olive branches of trust and friendship to each other.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Doug's fiancee Anne is revealed to be bulimic when her mid-meal purge in the bathroom is shown in full.
  • Wham Episode: In the season one finale "Resignation Day," Air Force One crashes and the President is presumed dead.