Reviews > Television
Andrew Eccles/USA Network

Political Animals

Television | USA's new cable mini-series is a politically correct puff piece for Democratic women in politics

Issue: "Praying for rain," Aug. 11, 2012

Sporting a snappy pants suit and a take-no-prisoners personality, Ellen Barrish Hammond, convincingly played by Sigourney Weaver, is the U.S. secretary of state and former first lady in USA's new cable mini-series Political Animals.

The show begins where Ellen's presidential bid ends: the night she concedes the Democratic primary to her male rival, Paul Garcetti.

Her political hopes crushed, Hammond divorces her pompous and philandering husband (Ciarán Hinds), and throws her political fervor behind Garcetti's campaign.

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When he sets up shop in the Oval Office, Garcetti taps Hammond as secretary of state but her rise to individual prominence is shackled by family drama and a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist by the name of Susan Berg.

Intent on ferreting out the truth from a woman she views as a traitor to feminist ideals, Berg leverages her knowledge of a protected Hammond secret-their openly homosexual son's suicide attempt-in order to shadow the secretary of state for a week.

Berg discovers the reality behind the former first family's televised façade is a labyrinth of family politics and sex (of which a fair amount is shown on screen). Hammond still has a weakness for her womanizing ex-husband, Bud, and a Tiger-mom's passion for their youngest son, T.J., who throws himself into drug use and rampant same-sex affairs to drown his depression. She leans heavily on her elder son and chief of staff, Douglas, who is trying to balance the demands of a new fiancé and life in a political family.

Affairs of state consume very little screen time, which primarily focuses on the Hammond family's relationships and how their obsession with politics impacts or distorts them.

Though the acting is well done, the writers work too hard to make Ellen Barrish Hammond a relatable and sympathetic character and to portray her family troubles as collateral damage from a life devoted to public service. The result is a politically correct puff piece for Democratic women in politics, particularly Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is clearly the inspiration for the show.

Stephanie Perrault
Stephanie Perrault

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