Political Animals Review: Series Premiere

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With Political Animals, USA Network has taken a stark departure from the "blue skies" shows for which it's typically known. It is not only a not-make-you-smile show, but it contains adult language and situations.

If you haven't watched the pilot yet, check out Leigh's spoiler-free Political Animals preview. If you have, read on for my take on the gripping opener...

Political Animals Premiere Pic

While the premise and characters are clearly based on the Clintons, after the time jump the similarities become less pronounced. The characters quickly stand on their own. With the exception of former President Bud Hammond(Ciaran Hinds), the differences were creatively an improvement.

From my first view of the show's trailer to this episode, I didn't buy Hinds in this role. He played the potty-mouthed, selfish, power-driven aspects perfectly, but he lacked the charisma that the character supposedly possessed. By the end, I wondered if it wasn't a charming charisma, but rather through manipulation that he was able to get all the ladies.

Why did Elaine fall for him and then stick around all those years? The answer to that question was unexpectedly - but brilliantly - explained through journalist Susan Berg's own relationship woes. The relationship between Elaine and Susan is the one I'm most intrigued to watch. They are both powerful, successful and misunderstood women. Their connection had a rocky start years prior, compounded by TJ's suicide attempt getting out, yet they could become the ally each other needs.

The clearest lesson from the premiere is that being the president isn't without sacrifice and being the family of the president is even more difficult. Elaine struggled to justify her life choices while trying to get out of her husband's shadow. And their children, the perfect Douglas and the troubled TJ, each have their issues as well. I hope in the coming episodes that their brotherly bond will help them each through their struggles.

Douglas is the favorite son, who can seemingly do almost no wrong. (Don't speak out against the president.) He is the rock for his brother, TJ, who was the first openly gay first child. While his sexuality doesn't seem to be the reason for his father's contempt, it clearly was a spark that caused the problems. The contrast between Bud's praise for Douglas and his demeaning comments to TJ was painful to watch. No child should be told they are a "joke" or have their suicide attempt ridiculed.

It's no wonder why TJ has problems with drugs. Will Douglas be able to save his brother? Or, is TJ the only one that can save himself?

On the political front, Elaine was sidelined by the president regarding the problems in Iran. Watching this situation unfold, along with the manipulation between countries (and within our own government) was disheartening to watch, especially given the realism. Elaine learned how to move the necessary pieces to attain her goal. Then Bud's play to get involved proved that it is a Hammond family trait.

The episode was jam-packed with characters and storylines. Given that this is a limited series, I'm a little worried that the show has introduced too many components. If they can all be effectively presented and moved forward, this will be a show to watch live each week.

Odds and Ends

  • MSNBC - Network synergy at work.
  • The show is trying to push boundaries, but at times it was gratuitous. Did we need to see Douglas and his fiance having sex? It didn't add much to the story, unlike the scene between TJ and the gigolo. And, Bud and the actress? Ugh.
  • So, Ann has an eating disorder. Not sure this is necessary, but perhaps it will become important.
  • TJ is amazing on the piano. Is that his ticket to fixing his life?
  • Elaine and Bud hooking up? Wow. That was unexpected.
  • Elephants are a matriarchal species? Woman power!


Editor Rating: 4.8 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.3 / 5.0 (156 Votes)

Carla Day is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter and on Google+.


I love the show "Political Animals". It's high drama with a family in a high place. We see behind the scenes that the family is not perfect, and this is what I like. I dont understand these other people bad-mouthing Political Animals. People seem to want some TV show which presents people in "LA-LA Land" where everybody is perfect and nothing ever goes worng. And then those same critics will get bored with exactly what they had asked for. Political Animals is great. I hope there will be more episodes in the future.


LOVE this show! The women are strong, driven and know what they want. It's about time!


I like this show, I just don't understand why it's necessary to push the sex into our face - the gay son, the other son going down on his fiancé, the reporter having a quickie on the plane, former President seducing the released hostage. Seriously??? Is this' what it's come to to get ratings up? Thank God for fast forwarding.


We will not ever watch this show again. We made it 20 minutes into this trash and deleted it. USA is way off on this one. To show blatant drug use is unbelievable and the sex and language extremely offensive. We will be telling everyone we know to stay away from the entire USA network. Absolute trash.


Wow... This is quite a hatchet job on President Obama, and leading up to the presidential election in just a few months no less...


Not since Jed Bartlett's DC have I been more intrigued or had more fun watching a new show. Political Animals is gutsy, hard-edged, and much more realistic about DC than West Wing ever was. I hope the term "limited series" is dropped from this wonderful show.


I am not from the US so I missed all those ads about the show and the hype I read about it here.
I watched it because I like SW and I like what she did here and I also do not think that she is not sexy or attractive. I am not 30 anymore but I have no problem to still feel good in my body. I think everybody has the right to feel good an attractive and it is a real change in the right direction not only to praise the 20+ people, but to show how attractive you can be with 50+
Here in Europe things are not that prude about sex, but I still think sometimes less is more.
But I will for sure take a look at the second show


Watching this show, it feels like it was written by someone who had some sense to them, direction and whatnot, and some inkling as to how to create a narrative involving politics and characterization... and then someone else came in with a lowbrow-stamp and started adding crap to the script for the audience who might now be interested in that kind of show and wanted something more titillating....
• like adding the "introduction to the characters" in an incredibly cheesy way. It was like someone later in production said "We don't know who these folks are. Give me that blurb we wrote up on each and we'll just narrate it in in a poorly orchestrated scene."
• the gay son who's "being gay was expected to be a major issue in the campaign, but never was" who picks out his mother's dress and offers to do her hair.
• The un-necessary graphic sex scenes and cut-aways (m/f, and m/m).
• The bulimic fiance? Not a bad thing, but its execution was... awkward beyond the actual situation. It's as if the show is really aspiring to be The West Wing, but just not to that level. It could be writing, it could be direction, and it could be from the meddling of producers and other peanut-gallery individuals that makes me wince at times. It really is quite sad. It could be a pretty decent (if groaningly predictable at times) show, but it's so full of fluff at inappropriate times. It has some great actors (Sigourney Weaver, for instance, does an amazing job) and that's why I'm so sad that it has those embarrassingly low-brow moments. It wants to be The West Wing, but it ends up feeling like a SyFy movie in places.


USA has really been pushing boundaries and being risque this year. They've been very liberal with the salty language on a few of its shows. I agree that they went out of their way in an attempt to be edgier. The language and some of the sec scenes were gratuitous and nor essential to the storyline as the reviewer said. We didn't need to see Bud and his actress gf. It wasn't pleasant when the 8yr old stumbled into the room after having a bad dream just at the moment someones bare ass appeared. Even I was grossed out then. And Douglas and his wife also wasn't pertinent to the story. T j stuff was all very relevant and Sebastian Stan is a standout. Ellen a scene stealer. I did enjoy it overall though. It sort of solves my Scandal fix. Great script...maybe too good for something limited.


@CC, why is it "stupid" and "ridiculous" that they call SW's character hot and sexy? Is there an age limitation on that? Why wouldn't her ex-husband still find her very attractive? It would be "ridiculous" and "stupid" if he didn't. She's not 30, but is that automatically a reason for you to dismiss someone as being pretty etc? Why wouldn't men find a woman their own age attractive or do you think that's "stupid" or even abnormal and everyone should only like 30 year old and under. Actually that would be something I'd call "stupid".

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Political Animals Season 1 Episode 1 Quotes

You're asking me to eat shit. Now, I held the highest office in the land. An office only 41 men before me ever held. I don't eat shit. I serve it.

President Hammond

Fan Girl: Why don't you run again?
President Bud Hammond: Would if I could. Would if I could.