Are we ready for the first Goop president?netflix

Content Note: This article contains a brief mention of suicide

The newest offering from Pose, Feud and American Horror Story creator Ryan Murphy follows the political career and aspirations of Payton Hobart, an affluent Santa Barbara teen set on become President of the United States. The series found its home on Netflix, after a fierce bidding war, sparked by rumours of involvement from Barbra Streisand and Gwyneth Paltrow and promises of sung performances by Platt.

Billed as “a comedy with social commentary”, and having seen the trailer, my hopes were, frankly, sky high. Ben Platt had blown audiences away playing the titular role in Dear Evan Hansen on Broadway, and the premise of the show felt just right. Spitting Image is returning to our screens, and in a time of increasing political ambition, polarisation and uncertainty, it feels more than ever like time for a healthy dose of medicinal political satire.

In the opening minutes, the jokes come thick and fast. We, the audience, are all at once thrust into the world of high school politics. It won’t be for everyone – there are intensely surreal moments, and sometimes I wasn’t sure whether I should be laughing or not. The world of the wealthy is carefully built, shot by shot. The lingering images of their lustrous California homes, dining tables that seem miles long, adorned with candles that can’t be shorter than three feet tall, and endless pools, stables and country clubs.

The show is littered with political references, so much so that the race to be High School president feels like the actual race to be President of the United States. The campaigning sides are replete with intense and cold-hearted advisors obsessed with polling data. They even obsess with scarily accurate realism over drawing in specific demographics of voters, among them “The Haitian Vote”, which consists of just one person.

Payton has his perfect high school sweetheart as his would-be First Lady, whose oversized sunglasses, page-boy bob, perfectly pleated Burberry skirts, and pastel sweater draped over the shoulders draw the immediate and unmistakable comparison of Jackie Kennedy.

Payton's 'First Lady', Alice, (centre) and trusted advisorsnetflix

One of the real strengths of the show is its star-studded ensemble cast. Gwyneth Paltrow pulls off a convincing performance as the rich, disenfranchised high society wife, always impeccably dressed in monochrome, as Payton’s adopted mother. With Paltrow’s natural health company Goop under fire, as usual, some of her lines do hit dangerously close to home – “This negative energy is not good for your father’s healing”. Jessica Lange gives a masterclass in volatility that boils just below the surface.

I have seen many reviews that have condemned the show as “trying for camp” and failing, or accused it of being too confused, contrived or convoluted. But what some seem to treat with disdain, I think we should embrace. Yes, the characters and situations seem unrealistic, pastiche even. So what? All the better, in my opinion.

The plot twists and turns: backstabbing, controversy and betrayal all come knocking at Payton’s door, sometimes in frighteningly quick succession. But these extremes are trademarks of analytical satire – everyday behaviour taken to logical extremes is the greatest tool to undermine it, and reveal its underlying hypocrisy and inherent ridiculousness.

I wish I could believe this wasn’t the case in real life, but at a time when mass media has never enjoyed so much power and nations face daily political turmoil, such fast-moving events hardly seem out of the realms of possibility.

“I wish I could believe politics wasn’t like this in real life – but in times like these, such events hardly seem out of the realms of possibility”

The interplay of the real and created in this series not only gives the audience an insightful yet unpalatable view into the motivations of characters through dramatic irony, but the issue of performativity penetrates into the characters’ psyches. Payton performatively cries at the end of It’s A Wonderful Life only because he feels he ought to. River wants his girlfriend to be more authentic when they’re together, but all she can muster is to “promise to seem more authentic”.


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Authenticity and politics are hardly comfortable bedfellows; indeed, Payton’s main aim in the first episode is acquiring a running mate who will make him seem more genuine. And yet the show continues to prove, time and time again, that the two seem utterly incompatible. Political machinations brutally crush personal events, as well as emotional responses and moral compasses. The shocking suicide of a student suddenly shifts from an opportunity for heartfelt tributes to a pawn for political traction.

For all its comedy and surreal cynicism, there is a genuine and very relevant side to The Politician. The show reminds us of the dangers of irresponsible politics dominated by personal attacks, underhand tactics and vaulting ambition. Sound familiar?

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