Pilot Perception: Political Animals

Welcome to Pilot Perception, our new feature in which we break down the first episode of each new show in order to help you decide whether it’s worth your time.

The Show: Political Animals, USA Network, Sundays at 10/9c

The Pedigree: Political Animals was created by Greg Berlanti (Brothers & Sisters, Everwood). Writers include Geoffrey Nauffts (Brothers & Sisters), Molly Newman (Brothers & Sisters), and Speed Weed (NCIS: LA). Some episodes were directed by David Petrarca (Eli Stone, Game of Thrones).

The Cast & How You Know Them: The all-star cast includes Sigourney Weaver (Alien), Carla Gugino (Karen Sisco, Californication), James Wolk (Lone Star), Sebastian Stan (Gossip Girl), Ellen Burstyn (Requiem for a Dream), Ciarán Hinds (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy), and Adrian Pasdar (Heroes).

The Premise: Political Animals is a barely-veiled drama about an American political family modeled after the Clintons, with one big difference – this couple, the Hammonds, divorced after the wife’s failed presidential campaign. Now the former First Lady is trying to keep up with the demanding job of Secretary of State while dealing with her sons and her ex-husband.

A Taste:

What Works: This show has a great cast, and they play very well off each other – especially Sigourney Weaver with Ciaran Hinds, Sebastian Stan, and Carla Gugino. The pilot set up some fascinating characters dynamics, and it should be interesting to watch them play out. And it’s nice to see a show dealing with the issues surrounding women in powerful positions as a main theme.

What Doesn’t: The writing in the pilot is extremely heavy-handed and some of the delivery is very stiff, but hopefully that will improve in future episodes. (Sigourney Weaver, especially, often sounded like she was narrating an audiobook rather than having a conversation.) At times, I found the Clinton parallels to be distracting, especially when the analogue to Bill Clinton went on bigoted tirades about the analogue to President Obama. The plot points of the pilot were often predictable (though in some cases it was because it mirrored recent history). And the show felt too much like it was trying to be all things to all people – a deep, thinky political drama and a sudsy soap at the same time. It didn’t manage to do any of them particularly well, so it just felt watered down. If future episodes pick a direction and stick with it, the tone may improve.

Our Favorite Line: “It’s okay, Sam. If I’d wanted to assassinate him I would have done it years ago. In his sleep.”

Other Items of Note: My absolute favorite moment was when the show casually mentioned that the family’s beloved dogs are named Jack, Bobby, and Teddy.

You Might Like This if you like political dramas like The West Wing or The Good Wife, or multigenerational family soaps like Dallas or Revenge. It has a fair amount in common with Berlanti’s previous show Brothers & Sisters.

If You’re Interested: Political Animals premieres tomorrow, Sunday, July 15, at 10/9c.

(Photo courtesy of USA Network.)

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