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September 17, 2014

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TV review: ‘Political Animals’

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James Wolk and Sigourney Weaver explore the studio—er, office—space in USA’s Political Animals.

The Details

Political Animals
Two and a half stars
Sundays, 10 p.m., USA

USA is taking a break from its usual stable of “blue sky” procedurals to launch the ambitious six-part drama Political Animals, which features no crime-solving by attractive people in sunny locales. Instead it chronicles the scandals and political maneuvers of a powerful Washington, D.C. family, led by determined matriarch Elaine Barrish (Sigourney Weaver). Elaine and her ex-husband Bud Hammond (Ciaran Hinds) are clearly heavily inspired by Hillary and Bill Clinton (Bud is a popular, philandering ex-president from the South, and Elaine is a former presidential candidate who is now secretary of state), but the show diverges from that template, both in the family dynamics and in Elaine’s political ambitions.

Creator Greg Berlanti does a better job with the family soap opera than he does with the matters of state, creating strong subplots for Elaine and Bud’s two sons (James Wolk, Sebastian Stan) and an intriguing dynamic between Elaine and her ex (although Irish actor Hinds is saddled with a terrible Southern accent). The show is less successful at convincingly portraying a hostage crisis in Iran, and the tough political reporter played by Carla Gugino seems to exist mainly as a plot device and exposition-delivery system. Even when the plotting is shaky and the dialogue is flat, though, Weaver is able to carry the show with her fiery presence.

Only the first of the six episodes was available for review, so it’s hard to say whether Political Animals will turn out to be more of a juicy soap opera or a stilted political drama. To succeed, it might be better off leaving the politics in the background.

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