You can smell election time in the air, can’t you? Politicians always provide great fodder for writers, whether it be for comedians, journalists, or drama. Ever since the incredibly successful The West Wing, it is hard to watch any political drama without using it as the benchmark against which all other political dramas is compared.
Meet the Hammonds: Donald “Bud” Hammond (Ciarán Hinds) is the 42nd President of the United States, a two-term President who left office with the highest popularity rating since JFK. His adulterous affairs ultimately cost him his marriage to Elaine Barrish (Sigourney Weaver), while earning a Pulitzer Prize for ambitious journalist Susan Berg (Carla Gugino) for her exposés on the Hammonds during their time in the White House. After her failed attempt to win the candidacy to run for President herself, Elaine threw her support behind eventual winner, Garcetti (Adrian Pasdar) and was appointed Secretary of State.
Does any of this sound familiar yet?
The Hammonds have twin sons, now 30, but who grew up in the public eye with the Secret Service watching over their every move. As if life in the First Family is not challenging enough, T.J. (Sebastian Stan) is the first openly gay son of an American president, a fact that he struggles with and he has spent most of his adult life battling addiction while trying to find his own place in the world. In contrast, Douglas (James Wolk) seems to have got it all under control, working for his mother as her Chief of Staff, and engaged to interior designer Anne (Brittany Ishibashi).
Susan Berg launched her career by reporting and passing judgement on the lives of the Hammonds. For years she believed Elaine Barrish stayed married to her philandering husband purely because of her own ambitions, but all that starts to change when she bribes her way into a week-long exclusive with Elaine to coincide with Douglas’ engagement party.
Over the course of a few days, Susan sees the other side of Elaine – the private side as she meets her future in-laws for the first time, the mother trying to protect her troubled son and the woman who is obviously still in love with her ex-husband despite his dating a popular and sexy actress whose breasts are allegedly insured by the network on which her show airs. Meanwhile, Susan’s own work-life balance comes into question when she shares secret information with her live-in boyfriend, Alex (Dan Futterman), who also happens to be her editor.
In amongst all this, an international diplomatic incident threatens the lives of three American journalists accused of being spies by the Iranians. As Elaine tries to resolve this, she finds it harder to know who to trust in the Administration she belongs to. The president feels his hands are tied and his Chief of Staff (Roger Bart) hates her. The Vice-President (Dylan Baker) seems to be in the dark as much as she is.
It is always refreshing to see a drama portray smart, intelligent, sexy women who have earned their way up the leadership pole in their professions. Weaver has made her reputation playing tough, strong characters without giving up her ability to feel compassion. It is wonderful to see her on the small screen. Gugino has great chemistry with Weaver as their two characters prove they may have more in common than first thought: “Never call a bitch a bitch. Us bitches hate that.”
Political Animals has one of the strongest supporting casts on television. In addition to Pasdar playing a president who may only be hanging on to his leadership by the strength of his Secretary of State’s popularity, Bart as the Chief of Staff who switched his allegiance from Elaine to Garcetti after failing as her campaign manager, one of the most interesting characters is Margaret (Ellen Burstyn) – Elaine’s former Vegas showgirl mother, who, despite her age, is not one to be trifled with.
Political Animals premieres on USA Network on Sunday, July 15 at 10/9c, and will air over six weeks.