4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

From the creative mind behind Glee, American Horror Story and Pose, Ryan Murphy is back again with the pseudo-satirical drama, The Politician. The story follows the ambitious and aspirational high school student, Payton Hobart (Ben Platt), as he strives after his lifelong dream to be the president of the United States. 

This first season sets up a series that traces the tenacious campaigns of this young politician and achieving his dream of residing in the White House. Opening with Payton’s campaign to win the role of student body president of Saint Sebastian High School. He is supported in his dream with by a team of equally neurotic political beasts made up of aspiring first lady Alice Charles (Julia Schlapfer) and campaign advisors McAffee Westbrook (Laura Dreyfuss) and James Sullivan (Theo Germaine)

The world of Saint Sebastian is far more glamorous and grown-up than many of us would have been in high school, which makes for a fantasy-like existence for Payton and his classmates. Like Glee and other depictions of high school this world is inhabited by exceptionally mature high schoolers. Even with this less than a realistic portrayal of the students, the one thing that The Politician does get right is the scary realism in the workings of young people in politics. This is a show that is reminiscent of a curious mix of Gossip Girl and House of Cards, managing to include every demographic represented in this progressive high school. 

For this reviewer, this show proved to be excellent viewing and ‘binge-worthy,’ where the eight episodes went by quickly and leave viewers yearning for the next season. Like most of Ryan Murphy’s other productions, this is a show that provides a commentary on several themes in our culture today such as mental illness, diversity, family and ambition. The underlying message is that ambition can bring out the worst in people and can lead to the exploitation of minorities for political gain. 

Within this vicious world of high school politics, Payton and his opponent Astrid Sloan (Lucy Boynton) represent the white, affluent element of society. Using tactics of feigning interest in students from minority backgrounds and experiences for the sake of gaining their support. As the series unfolds, we begin to see how behind the perfect images they have both created are just as messy and ugly as those around them, in fact their drive for success becomes their most obnoxious accessory. 

The audience is also exposed to several families, all in varying levels of dysfunction. Which becomes a glaring omission, that there is no positive example of family and family life presented. Like the friendships in the show, the familial relationships are symptomatic of the brokenness of this world. 

Reel Dialogue: Is ambition such a dirty word?

Our world is full of people with ambition. We see it across our cities as we compete for that promotion at work, launch start-ups and fight to gain more and more wealth.

Definition: an earnest desire for some type of achievement or distinction, as power, honour, fame, or wealth, and the willingness to strive for its attainment

What does the Bible have to say about ambition? 

In a letter to the early church, Paul writes: 

“Among yourselves have the same mindset as Christ Jesus, who, though he was in very nature God, did not consider equality with God a thing to be used to his own advantage but made himself nothing, by taking the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross! Therefore God has exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name” Philippians 2:5-9

Ambition is not evil itself, the Bible is filled with stories of people with drive and passion. The difficulty is knowing the motivation behind this word. Is ambition motivated by those found in who we are trying to please by achieving these goals set before us in life? If our aspirations are selfishly motivated or to only gain praise from others, things will eventually go sour. Instead, the goals and desires that should have ambition applied to them are those committed to serving God and others.

Welcome new reviewer Charlotte Pennell to Reel Dialogue