“Political Animals” has managed to do something that very few television shows are capable of accomplishing. Through its well-written screenplays, viewers venture deep into the private thoughts and lives of the Hammonds — a highly political family with a lot of drama — making each new episode more interesting than the last. Its complex characters are like nothing else on television.
The show centers on former first lady Elaine Barrish Hammond (Sigourney Weaver) and her inner circle. When the show opens, we see her preparing to lose the Democratic primary and divorce her husband, past president Bud Hammond (Ciarán Hinds), a president known for his multiple affairs but still beloved by the country.
The show then quickly jumps two years into the future. Elaine is midway through her term as secretary of state to the man who beat her in the primary. As the episode progresses, we continue to delve deeper into the life and mind of Elaine Barrish as she works not only for her country but for her family, too.
Here, the show incorporates elements of reality. Elaine represents a Hillary Rodham Clinton figure: a strong, independent woman on a mission. This leaves Bud as Bill Clinton, both equally as famous for their presidency as they are for their smooth-talking, philandering ways. This little hint of reality really works to bring out the realistic elements of the show, highlighting them for the viewers to see.
Though Elaine handles a hostage situation with poise, it is clear that she’s struggling internally to handle the immense stress of her life. She finally snaps in a moment of weakness. But being Elaine Barrish, she’s able to pull it together enough to do her job — and do it well. Watching her slow breakdown despite her projected poise is a true highlight of the show, and Sigourney Weaver continues to prove herself as a stunning actress.
This is what the show does best. It allows viewers — ordinary people — to relate to each and every character, due simply to their collective brokenness. They’re real people, just like us.
The way the writers handle the highly dysfunctional Hammond family, examining them from every angle, bolsters this effect even further. The family is unified around the various problems they all face on a persistent basis, but their lack of cohesion is jarring. On the exterior, they present a united front, but through our knowledge of their inner thoughts, it quickly becomes apparent that they’re not at all cohesive.
Through all the drama the Hammonds face throughout the show, Elaine Barrish appears to be the most stable character of all, which is sadly unexpected for a female lead in modern television. Elaine is the rare female character who is strong and in a leadership role. She looks around and tries to make everything better for everyone. She wants to save the day — both for her family and her country.
It’s refreshing to see a fictional character like Elaine Barrish portrayed so well. I don’t often find myself coveting the virtues of characters I find on TV. But I see Elaine Barrish and want to be like her in many ways, especially because somehow, her life seems so attainable.
“Political Animals” has created an outstanding fictionalized world with characters that draw viewers in to watch their crazy, screwed-up lives play out. While it’s not uncommon to envy the lives of television characters, the Hammond family seems almost ordinary, which makes them infinitely more accessible than characters on other shows. At the same time, it’s a television show — their lives are more dramatic than most, and watching the show has a voyeuristic quality.
Full of all the juicy goodness of a TV drama, it’s never been as easy to become a part of that new television fantasy world as it is with “Political Animals.”