USA Network’s latest drama Political Animals is a perfect mélange of a ripped-from-the-annals-of-recent-history homage to Hillary Clinton and a down and dirty nighttime soap on par with the likes of Revenge. Not only is there the requisite political backstabbing and backroom deals in Greg Berlanti’s (Brothers and Sisters, No Ordinary Family, Dawson’s Creek, Dirty Sexy Money) latest creation but there is plenty of sex, infidelity and private scandal that will make the heartiest of politicos beg for more.
Billed as a limited series event the heavy-hitting cast is anchored by Sigourney Weaver, the Oscar-nominated actress who has squared off with both aliens and gorillas on the big screen. While the woman who breathed life into Ripley in the Alien films is pretty much reason enough to tune in to Political Animals there is plenty more to love about the series, which is sure to become a guilty pleasure for politicos and soap lovers alike.
Weaver stars as the country’s cutthroat Secretary of State Elaine Barrish, who also happens to be the philandering ex-President’s (Ciarán Hinds)ex-wife. Carla Gugino stars as an ambitious journalist who alternately goes toe to toe with and befriends Elaine while the legendary Ellen Burstyn plays Elaine’s foul-mouthed, martini swilling mom.
Here are five reasons to tune into Political Animals.
5) Annie Lennox's cover of “Shining Light” is Elaine Barrish’s campaign theme song.
This may be a narrower reason than most to watch but it was a major plus for this at least this viewer. The pilot opens with flashbacks to Elaine Barrish’s failed run for the presidency, which she loses in the primary’s to Paul Garcetti (Adrian Pasdar). As she makes her way out to the podium to concede her campaign song blares over the loudspeakers, and it’s Annie Lennox’s cover of the Ash tune "Shining Light." While Ash’s original song is decidedly downbeat despite the lyrics Lennox’s interpretation is an inspirational feel-good anthem that fits Barrish’s character like a Fendi glove. For those of you unfamiliar with this ditty Lennox recorded for her Best of… album here’s the video.
4) Vanessa Redgrave guest stars as a lesbian Supreme Court Justice, who happens to be friends with Elaine Barrish. Is there any explanation needed?
At any rate, Redgrave is a long-time LGBT ally who has tackled playing transgender, androgynous and lesbian in films throughout her storied career. She portrayed transgender tennis player Renee Richards in the made-for-TV movie Second Serve, the androgynous Miss Amelia in the film The Ballad of The Sad Café, based on the Carson McCullers’ novel, and lesbian in The Bostonians and in HBO's If These Walls Could Talk 2. She has also costarred in the gay-themed film Prick Up Your Ears and the television movie Two Mothers for Zachary. Sadly there's no video of Redgrave available yet so that photo will have to suffice.
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3) Oscar winner Ellen Burstyn says things like “If I had a rack like hers I’d still be getting laid.”
Star of Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, The Exorcist and more recently Requiem for a Dream, Burstyn is a serious Hollywood heavy hitter, and it’s just a hoot to hear her deliver line after line of acerbic, if not painfully truthful witticisms. She’s also pretty fun as a cocktail sipping grandma who loves hanging out with her gay grandson Thomas (Sebastian Stan).
2) Carla Gugino’s Susan Berg espouses fourth-wave feminism while alternately facing off with and befriending Elaine Barrish.
The ever-watchable Gugino has been a strong presence on the small screen for decades starring on shows including Spin City, Chicago Hope, Karen Sisco, Entourage and Californication, not to mention her semi-star making turn in the movie Sin City, and I only mean "semi" because she should be a household name. Gugino’s Susan is at once idealistic to a fault and highly cynical. She’s a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist who’s sleeping with her philandering editor even as she criticizes Elaine for standing by her man during a highly publicized cheating scandal, a storyline that doesn’t even try to mask its roots in the Clinton / Lewinsky debacle.
1) If Sigourney Weaver were a real politician she’d get my vote.
It’s a testament to Weaver’s acting chops that she's able to seamlessly play fierce, vulnerable and utterly charming. Her Elaine is a phoenix who’s come out of a ruined marriage to the unctuous former Governor and beloved President Bud Hammond (sound familiar?), picked herself up from a failed run for the Democratic nomination, faced criticism at every turn from male colleagues and feminist journalists alike (Gugino’s character) and gone on to become an internationally respected force as Secretary of State and a role model to young women everywhere (also sound familiar?). Her Elaine is also a ferocious mother who would go to any lengh to protect her two sons Thomas, the rebellious fist-ever gay son in the White House and Douglas (James Wolk) her right-hand man.
If that weren’t enough to tune in it’s just plain delicious fun to watch Weaver interact with the entire cast but especially when she dressed down Gugino’s Berg for hypocrisy when she’s forced to listen to her waspy mother sling veiled mother / daughter style insults at her.