After watching the premiere of USA’s mini-series “Political Animals,” I’m not completely sure what to make of it. For most of the pilot, I agreed with the snippets of the reviews I’ve seen. The story is simply too close to the Clintons’ saga and the storyline is too conventional. The last few minutes, however, suggest there might be more to the show.
The program focuses on Elaine Hammond (Sigourney Weaver), a First Lady turned failed presidential candidate turned Secretary of State. Sound familiar? Her campaign materials even say simply “Elaine” just like Hilary Clinton’s read “Hilary.” The program begins with her conceding the presidential primary race, declaring that the first women president is in the offing, just as Hilary did in her concession speech in 2008. Her husband Bud is a Bill Clinton clone, a former two-term president as well as a philanderer who got in trouble questioning the credentials of Elaine’s primary challenger, a young Italian-American senator named Paul Garcetti. It seems like nothing more than a ripped from the headlines “Law and Order” episode until Elaine asks her husband for a divorce immediately after conceding the race.
Following her defeat, Elaine embraces Senator Garcetti and campaigns to get him elected. After the divorce, Bud Hammond’s popularity declines as he courts young television stars while complaining that Garcetti pledged to govern differently from him, but instead hired half of his staff from the Hammond administration (just as Obama criticized Bill Clinton’s modest achievements during the ’08 primary while hiring Rahm Emanuel, Larry Summers, and other Clinton veterans once in office.)
As always, Weaver is good, but the character is simply too much of a Hilary clone. Cherry Jones was better as a Hilary-like leader in seasons 7 and 8 of “24” because her President Alison Taylor was more than just a copy of the Secretary of State. Bud Hammond (Ciaran Hinds) is also a compilation of every Bill Clinton stereotype. He is brilliant, charming, flawed and undisciplined. John Travolta’s Clintonesque performance in “Primary Colors” (1998) was far superior.
Of some interest is the portrayal of Garcetti, the Obama-like president. Played by Adrian Pasdar (“Heroes”), Garcetti tells Elaine Hammond that she should be grateful she lost, declaring, “I was a dog chasing a car and I caught a bus. The economy’s in free fall. I can’t pass one piece of legislation through Congress. I go on TV to communicate a vision and America collectively turns me off to watch drunk housewives and singing competitions.“ President Garcetti is depicted as inferior to both Hammonds and not up to the job. Since 2009, many Republicans, as well as a few Democrats, have suggested that Bill Clinton was a more effective president than Obama is and that Hilary Clinton would have been a superior choice as well. The conservatives promoting this idea have conveniently forgotten how much they despised the two during the not-so-distant 1990s.
In between, “Political Animals” features a lot of soap opera intrigue within the Hammond family and between other characters. Weaver’s strong performance in the final part of the show salvages the pilot and, in the end, Elaine declares that she is going to run for president again and win. With the prospect of a Hilary/Elaine challenge to Obama/Garcetti (another cable news fantasy), the future episodes may hold some potential. In addition, I assume Weaver would be careful about choosing her first television show so I will withhold final judgment for now.