When I first saw the pilot of Glee in 2009, my little theater kid heart was smitten. Ryan Murphy's musical Fox series was brash and overbearing, it took teen tropes to unnatural heights, and in its best moments it was giddy camp entertainment. At its worst it felt grossly exploitative, and sometimes just downright dumb.
Ten years since Glee's premiere, Murphy is returning to high school with his first series for Netflix, where he now has a $300 million deal. In the interim years, Murphy has built out his American Horror Story franchise, while shepherding critically lauded fare like Pose and the American Crime Story anthology. But The Politician feels like Murphy unleashed. It's the most unhinged he's been since the Glee days: The eight-episode series dropping on September 27 is stuffed with random musical numbers, throuples, celebrity cameos, and hot-button issues used as joke-y fodder for melodramatic plots. It's well-acted and entertaining almost by sheer force of will, but you're also left wondering what, if anything, Murphy is trying to get at and whether the show's over-the-top tastelessness is at all earned.
Murphy has crafted a Rachel Berry for a new generation in Ben Platt's Payton Hobart, a relentless striver whose goal is to become President of the United States. He's the adoptive son of an insanely wealthy Santa Barbara couple (Gwyenth Paltrow and Bob Balaban), also parents to biological twin hunks who have paid their way into Harvard. Payton's run for the highest office in the country starts, apparently, at his prep school, where he has an army of minions (Laura Dreyfuss and Theo Germaine) ensuring he will win student body president. His opponent is River (David Corenswet), a sweet, gregarious hunk who also happens to be Payton's tutor/secret lover. River, meanwhile, dates the uptight Astrid (Lucy Boynton), who is the mastermind of her sensitive boyfriend's campaign. A shocking (and sure to be debated) event in the premiere -- that I won't spoil here -- shakes up the race, forcing Payton to scramble to maintain his lead.