Barrish Hammond served as First Lady for two terms while her husband Bud (Ciaran Hinds) held the White House. While there, older son Doug (James Wolk) seemed to do just fine, but younger son Thomas (Sebastian Stan), who was just a teenager at the time, became the first openly gay child in the White House when he came out.
Elaine then went on to throw her hat into the presidential ring, only to be beaten in the primary by now-President Garcetti (Adrian Pasdar), for whom she serves as Secretary of State. It is set in a world where Bud Hammond was the 42nd POTUS, which means he came right after Bush I. No Clinton, no Bush II and no Obama in this world. Garcetti is presumably the 43rd POTUS.
As a drama, the show needs to find its footing. It has great bones — there are intriguing storylines, both politically and with the personal relationships between the characters. Not only do Elaine and Bud (who are now divorced) have a intricate dynamic, but there is also Elaine’s working relationship with the President, Doug’s relationship with his fiance, the brothers’ relationship with each other (as one is the star and one is the screw-up) and Elaine’s relationship with a political reporter, played by Carla Gugino.
However, the writing is not as sharp as we wanted it to be. Grading on a curve, this miniseries is more adult and more serious than typical USA programming fare (not that we don’t love USA’s original shows, because we do). But this is an ambitious project for the network.
Unfortunately, the actual dialogue does not always live up to the serious subject matter, such as the opening scene where we are introduced to the Hammond family by an MSNBC reporter “reporting” on them as they arrive at a political rally. Surely there is a more subtle way to reveal that Thomas is gay other than having a reporter say we were all “waiting for his homosexuality to be an issue, but it never was.”
And pretty much every line given to Ellen Burstyn is awkward and sounds like it was found in the Sassy Old Lady for Dummies book. The writing can be terribly ham-fisted at times.
It isn’t a complete loss or deterrent, though. There are plenty of nice moments, especially one where Elaine says to the President, “Someday, sir, it’d be nice to be working for the man who beat me.”
But we had high hopes for “Political Animals” and it didn’t quite live up. That doesn’t mean we won’t tune in for subsequent episodes — as we said, it has great bones and therefore the potential is present for it to be a really good miniseries — but the pilot didn’t wow us the way we had hoped it would.