Ryan Murphys first show in his $300m Netflix deal is overstuffed with irritating excess from a grating Ben Platt performance to a wildly lurching tone
Ive become fascinated by Netflixs slow absorption of the worlds biggest showrunners of late. Chances are that, if youve gained a track record of hits, sooner or later Netflix will envelop you in an overall deal worth hundreds of millions of dollars. In the last year or so, Netflix has locked down the services of Shonda Rhimes, Patty Jenkins, the Game of Thrones guys, Marti Noxon and most notably, given the sheer amount of money flung at him Ryan Murphy.
But where is the balance of power? On one hand you have a number of talented, well-paid creatives people with strong, clear, popular visions. But on the other, you have a platform so incredibly data-driven that it can predict the popularity of a show, right down to the finest grain, before its even made. So who has the power here, the talent or the algorithm?
On the basis of The Politician the first fruits of Ryan Murphys $300m Netflix deal it looks like we finally have an answer. The showrunners have to be calling the shots. They have to be. Because The Politician is a comedy-drama about a high school student (who looks about 30) who spends his entire life meticulously planning his goal of becoming president (in an age where the actual president just sort of lucked into it as a dare) that lurches from rapid-fire banter to sledgehammer sincerity without warning and feels so mannered and inhuman that you suspect that its own opening titles (where the lead character is carved from wood) were made as a sly piece of self-parody. Plus his best friend is a ghost. Feed that into the Netflix algorithm, and theres a good chance that the Netflix algorithm would vomit on its shoes and excuse itself for the rest of the day.
What an odd show this is. Even by the standards of Ryan Murphy, whose shows have a tendency to loop off into incomprehensibility in their latter stages, it seems to have a particularly lax sense of self. It revolves around Payton Hobart; a boy who, since the age of seven, has been laser-focused on becoming the president of America. There might be a great, broad, Doogie Howserish sitcom in that premise, but Murphy has bigger plans for it than that. This series is a great big wall, dripping with ideas that have been flung at it without thought. Its a Rushmore-style satire framed in camp. Its a State of America Today declaration that feels like a particularly expensive daytime soap opera. Its an exploration of privilege thats deeply enamoured with its own privilege. Its a high school story where all the students are played by adults.