As of Sept. 27, “The Politician” has officially launched on Netflix. The show follows the political campaign of 18-year-old Payton Hobart (Ben Platt) who is running for Student Body President of Saint Sebastian High School in Santa Barbara, California. Hobart has known since he was seven years old that one day he was going to be the next President of the United States. Hobart has carefully planned every move of his life, cultivating a perfect and shatterproof image with the help of a cunning campaign team. High school is the perfect training ground for life in politics. The show is chock-full of cutthroat characters, superfluous scandals and bitter betrayals that remind the audience that this is the drama of any and every fictional high school ever created for the silver screen.
The drama element of the story kicks into high gear after the suicide of the opposing student body presidential candidate. No one saw it coming. This is a very touchy subject that Netflix can’t seem to let go of. Netflix issued a warning before the start of “The Politician” about how it might be unsettling for those struggling with mental health issues. Suicide is not a plot device. Mental health isn't something you can cherry-pick for the convenience of the plot, nor can it be fit into a single narrative. Netflix has faced backlash in the past for its depiction of mental health issues and suicide, and have responded by putting trigger warnings in their content. Mental health in mainstream media is a very controversial topic to talk about. Depictions of mental health can spark the conversation but it can also backfire to those suffering from it. If that aspect was taken out of the show, would it remain the same?
If the show-runners hadn't gone this route, I think the show could have been better. In the first episode the opposing student body presidential candidate, River Barkley, opens up during a debate about how he had attempted suicide prior to the start of the series. He went on to explain various treatments with therapists, medication, hypnosis, meditation and how none of them could make him feel better. This is where I believe the show fails. Here it shows a character with mental health issues who has sought out treatment and aid and none of it helped him. It's unrealistic to say that this doesn't happen. Treatment is taxing and it takes time, it's not going to be easy or correct right off the bat. Treatment is trial and error. To have River end in suicide, I believe, reinforces the idea that there isn't anyone or anything that can help you. No one is on your side. It reinforces that treatment doesn't matter if the outcome is the same. Suicide is never the answer, so why is it the only way out here?
Here's a theory: If River had lived, the show could have gone a different route. It could have shown River struggling with his issues. They could have shown how this affected his political campaign and his relationships with other characters. They could have showed the coping mechanisms and defenses that one puts up when you struggle with mental health. This only scratches the surface but it's a start to bring mental health into the limelight.
To call “The Politician” a comedy-drama is a bit of a stretch. The humor is either non-existent or lost on me. The genre is more teen drama than anything else (if anyone has seen anything on the CW Network, you’d understand this conundrum). To put it lightly, it’s an overdramatized, soapy satire. “The Politician” is very Wes Anderson-esque with its over-saturated aesthetics. Every scene is sumptuous in design and is the only reason I continued to watch the show other than my love for Ben Platt and Gwyenth Paltrow, who were utterly fantastic. While the show’s music and aesthetics are spot on, it lacked any sort of human emotion to connect the audience to the plights of the character.
The show is far from perfect. It struggled to find its footing which is understandable for any first season. On that note, the show can be given the benefit of the doubt. “The Politician” is a complex and colorful show, designed to follow Hobart and his political path every following season. It’s only a matter of time to see what scandal envelopes Hobart’s next campaign.