Despite hopes to expand the original six-episode mini-series, Political Animals ended after its initial run. The series focused on the soapy behind-the-scenes drama of the family of former First Lady and current Secretary of State Elaine Barrish (Sigourney Weaver doing her best Hillary Clinton impression). Over the course of the mini-series Barrish would butt heads with the current President (Adrian Pasdar) who she considers running against in the next election, and deal with family drama mostly tied to her ex-husband the charming but lecherous former President (Ciarán Hinds) and drug-addicted gay son (James Wolk).
The rest of the cast included Elaine’s dutiful son and Chief of Staff T.J. (Sebastian Stan), T.J.’s bulimic fiance Anne (Brittany Ishibashi), Elaine’s sassy drunk mother (Ellen Burstyn), and newswoman Susan Berg (Carla Gugino) whose acrimonious relationship with the Barrish softened over the course of the series. We also saw a hostage crisis in Iran, a sinking Chinese nuclear sub off the coast of San Diego, and the gearing up of Barrish’s second Presidential campaign.
From the start Political Animals was very much a mixed bag. Given the events of the final episode there’s a chance that a second season with a stronger focus on campaign and election maneuvering may have led to better stories, but the show would still be stuck with a multitude of soapy subplots (including Wolk as the first openly-gay member of the First Family) never quite worked.
The show’s most intriguing relationship, between the current Secretary of State and a reporter who made her bones blasting Elaine when she was First Lady, was by far the strongest thread but even it was derailed by the show’s inability to nail down Susan’s questionable motives and her own relationship drama when she discovered her editor (Dan Futterman) and boyfriend was sleeping with the paper’s plucky new blogger (Meghann Fahy) which took up far too much air time.
In the end Political Animals is very much a common television tale of a show whose on-screen talent was better than its writing. It’s not a bad show by any means, and fans of Weaver and Gugino may find it worth checking out, but much like Elaine’s failed Presidential campaign the show is really nothing more than a footnote in the various actors’ careers.
The two-disc collection includes all six episodes of the mini-series and deleted scenes.
[Warner Home Video, $19.98]