Goddamnit, is Sebastian Stan famous enough now to be in things that don't suck? The interwebs say that The Bronze was picked up for a 600-screen deal, which means it'll undoubtedly be shown somewhere in Boston. I suppose I'll see then.

Netflix Watch Instantly, it turns out, has Political Animals, a miniseries in which he plays one of the main roles, that of the fuck-up drug addled child of the star family. I expected to not particularly like it; I'm not keen on political dramas, and I figured there'd be a lot of shocking plot developments and hand wringing and probably at least one scene that consists entirely of two actors shouting at one another like they think volume is what wins you an Emmy. I've watched worse and less interesting things out of curiosity, though. I did get through Black Swan for Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis. I didn't think it was the epic cinematic tour de force that everyone else apparently thought it was, but it wasn't particularly horrible.

Political Animals is absolutely terrible in every possible respect. Stan impressed me, given what he had to work with. James Wolk, playing the son who doesn't spend the entire miniseries high, was pretty good in his scenes opposite Stan. He's either not good enough or too susceptible to outside cues to remain good when bouncing off his more wooden co-stars, but if it had been some sort of melodrama about the brothers reacting to their fucked-up family, I probably would have watched it without wanting to throw things at the TV every two minutes. Brittany Ishibashi, playing the good son's fiancée, probably would have been good had there been literally any point in the script where she was required to demonstrate any acting ability whatsoever. Ellen Burstyn played the drunken gramma and would have been effective comic relief in anything that was even remotely well-written. Sigourney Weaver, I have never liked in any project where the props department has not issued her a submachine gun. No one else made any kind of impression, other than reciting words that made me goddamn wince.

Every last speaking character in this show needs to be slapped. The fuckup son, the fiancée, and a particularly nebbishy assistant at the newspaper only need to be slapped in a moderate sort of way, to discourage them from continuing to make poor life choices. The three of them never at any point did anything that was intentionally calculated to fuck over another human being. Everyone else needs to be slapped viciously and continually until they either learn their lesson about being self-centered douches, or fall into an unending coma so they can't destabilize either their social circle or the precarious balance of world peace ever again.

I've seen mentioned in several reviews of the show that some people found the main character abrasive, but excusing it because she's a "strong female" character.  No she isn't. She's a horrible human being. The last 100% sensible thing she does in the entire series is in the first episode, where she files for divorce from her narcissistic dickbag husband. Whom she opts to sleep with again, and then keeps him around for the rest of the plot. She is not an independent woman. Her entire life revolves around a lot of men: Her ex-husband, both of her sons, the President, the Vice President, and a variety of secondary characters. The reporter, also supposedly a hard-hitting feisty woman, is concerned mostly with banging her boss, then breaking up with the boss she was banging, spatting with the new woman banging her boss, and ultimately banging the (engaged!) theoretically non-fuckup son while drunk in a private plane.

Every young, attractive woman in this series who has sex with someone without the sanctity of marriage -- either previous or upcoming -- is dressed as what I suspect is someone's idea of a whore. Skin-tight skirts and black brassieres underneath sheer light-colored blouses. No woman would ever dress like that in a white-collar professional environment in Washington DC, regardless of her private sexual proclivities, because office clothes don't fucking work like that. You don't wear a translucent blouse without a silk shell underneath it, and you really don't wear it with a dark bra beneath. The men, on the other hand, had a modicum of effort put into their costuming, with variety in their suit styles and casual clothing -- someone in wardrobe at one point went to the trouble of finding Stan a fitted dress shirt with some unusual seaming details down the front, which is exactly what you'd expect from a character who is about to attend the opening of his own nightclub. It's just the women who are dressed like identical dolls. Even Sigourney Weaver is dressed like Middle-Aged Political Barbie, cinched to within an inch of her life into a bunch of high-waisted pencil skirts with wide belts.

It is not a triumph of feminist storytelling. Several scenes which could easily have been written so as to pass the infamous Bechdel Test were inexplicably not. Gossip blogger lady corners the fiancée to find out if there's any truth to the rumors that her MIL-to-be is planning a run at the Oval Office, and she does it by arranging a pretext interview about how the fiancée has been hired to decorate some dude's house, and asking leading questions about her future husband's work schedule. Every time the reporter scraps with the gossip blogger, someone comes around to saying something catty about how they're still competing for their boss's penis attention. The fiancée and the drunk grandma toke up together and do nothing but talk about their men.

It is not a triumph of storytelling, period. The characters are clichés. The sleazy womanizing ex-husband is never anything but sleazy and womanizing. The good son has exactly two character traits: "neurotic" and "not the one on drugs". The Veep isn't just a weaselly sonofabitch, he's a professional weaselly sonofabitch who used to head up the CIA. Shit comes out of left field and zooms right back out there as soon as the scene is over. Drunk grandma gives fiancée advice about an eating disorder of which there has been not the slightest of hints for the entire preceding run of the series. The main political plot is "resolved" when Air Force One crashes, absolutely nobody having learned any lessons of any kind. Protagonist lady leaks national security info to a reporter and publicly defies the POTUS, and suffers absolutely no consequences whatsoever.

And, in an ending that is especially galling to someone with my history, everybody is happy! for the last two minutes! because protagonist lady has given up politics to tend to her family, because the good son has attempted to elope with his fiancée (because this will absolutely 100% fix all of the problems with their relationship, including the part where she doesn't know he nailed the reporter on his private plane), because protagonist lady looks like she's going to take her ex back, because the junkie son has momentarily gotten positive attention from his parents for helping them ignore his brother's boundaries and crash the wedding he had specifically run away to have without all of them. She tells her asshole ex that now is not the time to bring up politics, because Air Force One has just crashed, and their son has just gotten married. No mention of the other son, who has just been in the hospital for the second suicide attempt that we see on-screen.

I'm sorry, but when you make three solid decades of shitty self-absorbed decisions and try to call the resulting narcissistic wreck "parenting", you should reap exactly what you sow. In my happy ending, the junkie kid would have gotten the fuck away from all of them, because that is the only way he's ever going to get and stay clean, And everyone's political careers would have been in goddamn shambles, because if you're going to spend an entire series implying that reporters are sharks ready to bite at the first hint of blood in the water, you should fucking pay that off with a lot of PR disasters.

Speaking of the junkie son, the scriptwriters appear to be trying to stir up drama by making the character gay. Except he actually isn't. His romantic entanglements all seem to be men, but he's seen at one point enthusiastically making out with a female extra at a party, and bonds with his brother over both having nailed a female tutor of theirs as teens, cheerfully supplying the information that he still sleeps with women from time to time. It's entirely possible that the writers don't understand how homosexuality works. They also don't seem to understand how nuclear submarines work, how journalism works, or how the grown-ups speak to one another in professional business settings. (The reporter characterizes something the White House did as "gross". Not "grossly inappropriate" or "a gross abuse of power". Just "gross", like she's a teenager whose only way to express discomfort or displeasure at something is to label it icky.) Moggie, who chooses to be charitable, thinks that the writers have accidentally succeeded in depicting a young man who is actually bi but opts to insist to everyone that he's gay in order to avoid being pressured into sticking to women. Watching Stan snog other attractive men is not enough to make up for the way this is never resolved, addressed, or even vaguely alluded to at any point in a story that purports to wrap itself up "happily".

[Edit: I realize that IRL, human sexuality is blah blah yakkity smakkity. This is not that, believe me. The general impression I get is that whoever wrote the character could not conceive of 1) a dude who did not like tits, or 2) guys bonding over anything other than their shared love of pussy.]

I do think they were right to make the junkie kid relapse when he got back into the clutches of his family. If I were stuck interacting with those people, I'd be high as balls all the time, too.

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