WASHINGTON, July 14, 2012 — Is this a case of art imitating life or outright theft of biography? On Sunday, July 15, USA launches a six-part series about a Secretary of State who just happens to be a woman, a former First Lady, once married to a philandering husband in the White House, and who is tough and intelligent. Hillary Clinton or her doppelganger? (See video at the end.)
There are other similarities between Clinton and her fictional counterpart as well: both women wear pants suits, both married Southerners and were stalked by the press over the years, both lost their Democratic bid to be president to a younger, more magnetic candidate only to later join his cabinet, becoming unbelievably popular at home and abroad. And both may run again for president in the future.
There are also a couple of big differences: While Hillary Clinton was a New York senator, Elaine Barrish, played by Sigourney Weaver, was governor of Illinois. While Clinton is still married to Bill Clinton, Barrish dumped her husband, Bud Hammond. Clinton has one daughter and Barrish has twin sons, one straight and her chief of staff and one, gay, out, and a renegade with addiction problems.
While Bill Clinton is a very popular and influential former president, former President Hammond is not so popular, nor influential, and caught up with a buxom movie star.
Clinton often looks frazzled after hours of jetting around the Globe, sometimes just pulling her hair back (when is there ever time to wash her hair?), wears no make up, and has gained a few pounds from chowing down with world leaders from Bangkok to Dubai. On “Political Animals,” Barrish hasn’t a hair out of place, never suffers from jet lag, has perfect make-up, and is slim and trim. That’s fiction for you.
So now the game of comparisons is about to really start. Is this show about Hillary Clinton, a tribute to her, or inspired by her? According to Sigourney Weaver, it’s partially Hillary-inspired, but she adds: “I know that there are obvious superficial similarities with the Clintons, but I think [“Political Animals” creator] Greg Berlanti has been inspired by all of the families in the White House…[and] have paid a price for that experience, and oddly, they all want to get back in the White House. So it’s inspired by the Roosevelts, the Kennedys, the Bushes — all of these different families — that’s why he wrote this.”
[“Political Animals” premieres Sunday, July 15 at 10 p.m. EDT on USA]
What makes “Political Animals” fun to watch is that while it is political soap opera, taking us behind the scenes of Washington’s powerhouses, it portrays women as strong and assertive with a barbed wit and a sense of humor, making them real, complex characters who sound as smart as they actually are. In fact, the show does not shy away from the F word, feminism.
One of the highlights is the give and take between Barrish and her nemesis, Susan Berg (Carla Gugino), who had relentlessly skewered Barrish and her then-president husband Bud Hammond for his infidelities and thus winning herself a Pulitzer Prize. The Berg character appears to be loosely based on New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who doggedly hounded the Clintons about the Lewinsky affair, but she didn’t win a Pulitzer for her efforts.
So the zingers fly and it is entertaining to watch the two women play savvy one-upmanship. A bonus of the show is Ellen Burstyn playing Weaver’s mother, a woman who can dispense salty, down to earth advice with a drink in her hand.
Don’t expect another “West Wing.” This show is carving out its own political niche. It is also not satire like “Veep,” yet that’s not to say there aren’t many humorous moments, such as how Secretary Barrish reacts to having her fanny grabbed by the Russian Ambassador. We have to suspect that even Hillary has experienced something similar as she faces down global male chauvinists.
The lure of the show will be whether we are mumbling to themselves, “I bet Hillary would do that.” “I bet Hillary would say that.” If we are and we like the feeling of being on the inside of power politics, especially during an election year, perhaps the six-part mini-series will have an encore.
For now, just enjoy the ride. Who knows it may even convince a few folks that government isn’t all that bad.
To contact Catherine Poe, see above. Her work appears in Ad Lib at the Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. She can also be heard on Democrats for America’s Future. She is also a contributor to broadcast, print and online media.
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