While the opening episode suffers at the start from overly broad depictions of Barrish’s philandering ex-husband (Ciaran Hinds), hard-drinking mother (Ellen Burstyn) and drug-addicted gay son (Sebastian Stan), once it focuses on its core struggle for power between Barrish and a hard-charging newspaper reporter Susan Berg (Carla Gugino), the series finds its dramatic feet.
Better yet, it also finds its head. There is genuine wisdom in the conversations and confrontations between these two women. When Berg asks how Barrish keeps going, the reply begins: “Most of life is hell; it’s filled with failure and loss. People disappoint you. Dreams don’t work out. Hearts get broken….”
This is grown-up, you-can-handle-the-truth, cable-TV talk.
And the interplay between Barrish and Berg is further amplified by a rivalry the reporter has with a younger reporter/blogger, Georgia Gibbons (Meghann Fahy), in her newsroom at the fictional Washington Globe — making for a third level of gender, generation and workplace drama.
“When you look at those three productions — ‘Game Change,’ ‘VEEP’ and ‘Political Animals’ — what’s particularly profound about ‘Political Animals,’ from our perspective, is the idea of these different women in different kinds of relationships in the show,” Henning says, pointing to “the generational differences and the way these women’s lives are kind of colliding.”
Here’s how the study guide invites viewers to ponder the core story line’s implications for their lives: “As the show unfolds, more and more similarities appear between [Barrish and Berg]. … At the same time, they are at odds with one another for much of the pilot. Even if women are working toward different goals, can their common experiences as women transcend that? Do you see potential for these two women to have a mentor or sponsor relationship?”
That’s one kind of seeing. But there is a larger realm of seeing and being that the series invites as well. This is the one that we might be looking back at in 2016 in a “Will & Grace” kind of way.
“What intrigues us is the notion that this character has a certain skill set that a woman brings to the table as far as attempting to mend a broken family,” executive producer Laurence Mark says. “And it’s interesting to at least observe, and perhaps it’s true, that the exact same skill set can be used to mend a broken country. And there may be something to, at some point, putting all our bets on a woman.”
On TV: 'Political Animals’ premieres at 10 p.m. Sunday on USA.