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Series / The Politician

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The Politician is a political comedy-drama series created by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Ian Brennan. It is the first project of Murphy's development deal with Netflix, following the end of his long-running collaboration with FOX / FX. The series debuted in September 2019.

Payton Hobart (Ben Platt) is an ambitious high schooler who has convinced himself that he will become President of the United States someday, and to start putting that plan in motion, has decided to start small — specifically, becoming student body president of his wealthy Santa Barbara high school. Hilarity Ensues.

Starring alongside Platt is an all-star cast including the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow as Payton's mother Georgina, Zoey Deutch as his former running mate-turned-rival Infinity Jackson, and Jessica Lange as Infinity's grandmother Dusty, with Bob Balaban, Dylan McDermott, January Jones, Judith Light, and Bette Midler appearing in other roles.

A second season was confirmed before the first one premiered, and was released in June 2020. Murphy has shared plans for a delayed third and final season, which will follow Payton during his self-prophesied POTUS campaign.

The Politician includes examples of:

  • Absurdly Powerful Student Council: Part of the premise of the whole show.
  • Academic Alpha Bitch: Payton is a rare male example.
  • The Ace: A lot of the characters are shown to be this, with numerous achievements and Ivy League-acceptances under their belt.
  • Aerith and Bob: Names like Alice, James, Andrew, Martin, and Luther show up with names like Infinity, Dusty, and McAfee.
  • Age-Gap Romance: Hadassah and Dede and Marcus's former boyfriend, William. The latter is quick to defend his attraction to her.
  • All Abusers Are Male: Averted. Dusty Jackson is a woman.
  • All Elections Are Serious Business: The main characters in the first season take the Saint Sebastian High School presidential election incredibly, insanely seriously. To the point where there are honest-to-god assassination attempts. Subverted in episode 5, where we see events from the point of view of one of the "voters" (i.e. another student) who isn't involved, doesn't particularly care, and ends up not even voting, with the implication being that this is far from uncommon.
  • Amicable Exes: McAfee and Skye. Payton and Astrid also go through a phase of being this.
  • Artistic License – Politics: Plentiful in Season 2, although some of it could be snide commentary about modern American campaigns. One standout is a Cloudcuckoolander like Georgina, not to mention a young woman on an all-female ticket, winning the presidency by a landslide.
    • Subverted in terms of Payton's State Senate campaign. While it's uncommon for someone as young as him to become a State Senator, the age requirement to run in New York is 18.
  • Awful Wedded Life: Astrid and Payton both have parents that fit into this trope.
  • Badass Bookworm: Payton, for God's sake, as well as his campaign team.
  • Baldness Means Sickness: Infinity is bald, due to her grandmother, who has Munchansen by Proxy, shaving it to make her look sick. After the time skip in the Season One finale she has a chin length bob.
  • Betty and Veronica: Astrid is the seductive Veronica to Infinity's Betty and Ricardo's Archie.
  • Black Comedy: This show's humor has plenty of shades of this.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Payton seems to feel a downplayed version of this for Infinity Jackson.
  • But Not Too Bi: Inverted with Georgina. Her sexuality isn't explicitly mentioned, but she is seen in relationships with both women and Senator Tino McCutcheon.
  • Cast Full of Rich People: The first season is about uber-wealthy California prep school students, of which Payton is one of the wealthiest.
  • Celebrity Paradox: In the second episode, Payton plays a piano version of a song called "Run Away". It was written by Ben Platt, implying that Platt himself exists in this universe.
  • Class Representative: Payton and Astrid (and Skye) want to be student council president and will go to disturbing lengths to achieve this.
  • The Chessmaster: Payton. It is shown time and time again that he will do just about anything to get what he wants.
  • Comically Small Demand: Ricardo's only request in exchange for telling the police everything about Dusty Jackson is two Filet-o-Fish burgers, fries, and a milkshake.
  • The Cutie: Infinity, though she crosses the line into Badass Adorable at times.
  • Deep South: Infinity's grandmother has an accent that implies she was at least raised Southern.
  • Disabled Love Interest: Infinity to Ricardo. Subverted due to the fact that she's not actually sick, and has a grandmother suffering from Munchausen-by-proxy.
  • Domestic Abuse: Implied with Astrid's parents, though not explicitly shown.
  • Drama Club: Payton and Infinity star as opposite romantic leads in a school musical, presumably to make use of Ben Platt's extraordinary singing talent.
  • Driven to Suicide: River kills himself in the first episode. He mentions an earlier unsuccessful attempt before finally doing it.
  • Dumb Blonde: Averted with Alice, who is shown to be a blonde Teen Genius. Astrid is also a blonde who's by no means dumb.
  • Election Day Episode: The entire series could be considered this, but "The Voter" (1x05), "The Assassination of Payton Hobart" (1x06), and "The Voters" (2x05) are the literal examples.
  • Everyone Is Bi: It's not made out to be that big of a deal, but numerous main characters are shown to be non-straight to some degree.
  • Family Portrait of Characterization: James mentions that famous photographer Annie Leibovitz took Payton's wealthy family's Christmas photo, and notes it as one reason he's not considered an "accessible" presidential candidate.
  • First-Episode Twist: River commits suicide after he's set up as a protagonist for Payton in the very first episode.
  • Forced Out of the Closet: An aborted attempt by one of Payton's rivals, in which he retaliates by calling them a bigot.
  • Friends with Benefits: Astrid and Ricardo are this, albeit briefly so. In Season 2, Astrid, Payton, and Alice.
  • Gender-Blender Name: River and Payton are generally seen as feminine names, but are given to male characters here.
  • Go-Getter Girl: Astrid and McAfee.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Played with. When both Alice and Astrid become pregnant at the same time, they initially want to keep their children, despite being young and having other dreams. Later on, Astrid gets an abortion but Alice decides against it.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: The student council election. Though Astrid isn't the best candidate, Payton's intentions for running definitely aren't as noble as he'd have you believe.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Dede and her second in command, Hadassah.
  • High-School Hustler: Payton, alongside virtually every goddamn character in the show.
  • High-School Sweethearts: Payton and Alice.
  • Hollywood Tone-Deaf: Ricardo, which is played for comedy once he gets cast in the school musical.
  • If It's You, It's Okay: Payton and River's relationship seems to be portrayed this way. While it isn't confirmed if Payton considers himself wholly straight, he admits to Astrid in Season 2 that he was never sexually attracted to River, he just wanted to feel close to him.
  • I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: Dusty accidentally(?) shoots Ricardo.
  • Implied Love Interest: River may be seen as this for Payton during Season 1.
  • Innocently Insensitive: Infinity gets in some serious trouble over calling someone a butt-muncher.
  • Ivy League for Everyone: Averted. While McAfee graduates from Columbia, Payton's admission to Harvard is rescinded and it's too late to buy his way in like his brothers since he was disinherited.
  • Jerk Jock: Both of Payton's brothers.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Ricardo's unpleasant and not particularly smart, but you can't deny he loves Infinity.
  • Large Ham: Infinity has shades of this, especially after she becomes an environmental activist.
  • Lower-Deck Episode: "The Voter" (1x05) focuses on an undecided voter at Saint Sebastian High, who simply doesn't give a shit about the election and is more concerned with trying to masturbate in peace.
    • Similarly, "The Voters" (1x06) follows one of Payton's campaign volunteers and her mother, who believes Payton's opponent Dede Standish is the better candidate.
  • Male Gaze: Well demonstrated from the point of view of a very horny teenage guy in the episode "The Voter."
  • The Mistress: Astrid gleefully plays this role to Ricardo when convincing him to run away with her.
  • Morality Pet: Infinity appears to be this for Ricardo.
  • Mr. Fanservice: River is introduced with his shirt off, post-coitus.
  • Naïve Everygirl: Infinity shows shades of this in later episodes. Justified as she spent her entire childhood going through cancer treatment she didn't actually need, and wasn't able to participate in any normal teenage activities.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: The junior Democratic Senator-elect from Texas who appears in Season 2 is pretty likely based off of 2018 Senate candidate/2020 presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke, having both a similar name (Tino) and O'Rourke's presidential aspirations. His prospective running mate, New York Senate Majority Leader Dede Standish, whose district is based in New York City, also bears a striking resemblance to powerful Democrat Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney. Maloney's district also happens to be based in New York City.
    • Infinity's storyline borrows several elements from the real life case of Gypsy Rose Blanchard, whose mother also suffered from Munchausen by proxy.
  • Overly-Nervous Flop Sweat: Payton sweats "like Nixon" in his debate with River.
  • Official Couple Ordeal Syndrome: Payton and Alice go through a cheating incident, multiple breakups, a fling with Astrid, and an unplanned pregnancy (not to mention all of the election drama) before finally ending up Happily Married.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Dusty dismisses gay people by saying all they do is "munch butts and celebrate Halloween".
  • Polyamory: New York State Senate Leader Dede Standish and her husband are in a threesome relationship with a man named William.
  • Preppy Name: Payton Hobart. McAfee Westbrook.
  • Rich Bitch: Pretty much every character seems to be this to some extent, but Dusty fits the description to a tee (albeit less rich than the bulk of the cast since she's able to feed off of people's sympathy for her fake-ill grand-daughter).
  • Riches to Rags: After being found out trying to kill their own father, Martin and Luther are instantly cut off and left with nothing but a very expensive piece of furniture that they're instantly in debt for.
  • Runaway Bride: Alice leaves another man at the altar to help Payton with his State Senate campaign.
  • Running Gag: After Hadassah sings the praises of warming lube, which she calls "spicy lube", she sends McAfee to fetch some for her. The term "spicy lube" is uttered numerous times in the aftermath.
  • Secret Test of Character: After awakening from his coma, Keaton is told how his sons are going to kill him for his money. He plays at being in a coma as they show up, discussing how to do it and cover for each other then reveals he's been awake the whole time.
  • Take That!: The hilarious nonchalance with which Georgina and the admission officers talk about bribery to get into Harvard is a huge one to the frequent practice of rich families buying their children into college and especially those implicated in the then-recent college admission scandal.
    • The opening credits pan over a long list of Presidential biographies (every president from Ronald Reagan on), many of which are award winners. When it gets to Donald Trump, it's An Idiot's Guide to Clowning.
    • A couple of potshots are taken at libertarians during the series. Astrid's rather unpleasant father met her mother because he hired her as an escort at a Ron Paul fundraiser and Payton describes the titular Straw Loser character of "The Voter" as a libertarian.
  • Time Skip: The Season 1 finale "Vienna" moves three years into the future.
  • The Bus Came Back: Ricardo's appearance in Season 2. Payton and his team visit him in prison for some Rock-Paper-Scissors advice.
  • Twofer Token Minority: Skye is a black lesbian who's gender non-conforming to boot. She uses this to her advantage during the election.
  • Uptight Loves Wild: Infinity is sweet, helpful and seems to be a pretty good kid. Why she would go with Ricardo is anybody's guess, but it might have something to do with this Trope.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: In Season 2, McAfee, James and Skye.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Infinity steals a ballot box to help Payton win the State Senate race, much to Payton's dismay.