Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Political Animals: Alternate Hillary History

Political Animals (6-part mini-series) debuted on the USA Network Sunday night.  The Hollywood Reporter called the 2.6 million viewers "soft ratings"- I disagree, those numbers are pretty decent. I hear tell that the producers say that series was not really inspired by Hillary and Bill Clinton - that's complete nonsense, and another demonstration of literary critic I. A. Richards' admonition that the creator of a narrative is the last person you should go to for an explanation of what it means - the creator could be anything from dissembling to not being in touch with the implications of the work.

Alternate history is a form of story telling well known in science fiction.  How would the world have been different had Lincoln or JFK not been assassinated, had Germany won the Second World War, etc?  I take a similar tack about Socrates and the hemlock in The Plot to Save Socrates.

Political Animals is the story of Elaine Barrish, former First Lady of a popular two-term President (the most popular "since Kennedy") with a southern accent and a penchant for the ladies and affairs.  She loses a close campaign for the nomination for President to a young, well-spoken, dynamic opponent.   So far, the history is not alternate but all but identical to Hillary and Bill's.  But on the night she concedes to her opponent, the divergence from our real world begins:  Elaine wants and gets a divorce from her philandering husband.

So the excellent set-up for this series is: what would have happened had Hillary left Bill after conceding the nomination to Barack Obama in 2008?  One highly significant development stays the same:  President Garcetti (played by Adrian Pasdar, who also played a President in one of the realities in Heroes) makes Elaine his Secretary of State.   And the show if off and running.

There are inevitable minor differences between the reality of Political Animals and ours.  Former President Hammond and Elaine Barrish (who uses her original name, unlike Hillary) have two sons (one gay, the other engaged to a bulimic) and no daughter.  And, at this point, it looks like Obama is a better President than Garcetti (who is Italian American not African American).

But the tableau is easily recognizable as ours, with the twist, and that's its appeal.  What differences will this twist engender? Elaine is free to sleep with other people - though the only man she sleeps with so far is her former husband, at least once, for special emotional support - and she vows to run again for President. The acting is excellent - Signorney Weaver as Elaine and Ciarán Hinds (Caesar in HBO's superb Rome) as her former husband and former ex-President, and I'm looking forward to every episode of this original, courageous, and highly entertaining series.

The Plot to Save Socrates

"challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

"a Da Vinci-esque thriller" - New York Daily News

"Sierra Waters is sexy as hell" - curled up with a good book

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