I am all about politics these days. My favourite TV shows are political, I am super excited about the upcoming election, and nothing gives me more pleasure than stirring up political debate – either in person or on social media. When did I become such a political animal? I know exactly when, and moreover, who is to blame. It was the year 2000 and that person was Aaron Sorkin. The West Wing made me actually think that politics was an interesting and important thing – and made me really care about what happened in our own little country. Of course – I cared about it before – had voted, had chosen law papers based on which ones were more interesting to me – and most of those were political. But I was more concerned with politics on a global scale than politics in NZ. Today, though – I am all about both kinds. I find it fascinating, frustrating and fixating. So – no surprises that my TV choices are also affected.
I will watch shows that are actually pretty average just because they have a political angle. Case in point? Scandal. For those who have never seen it – it is about a high profile Washington DC ‘fixer’ named Olivia Pope. She and her team of ‘gladiators’ go in and clean up the messes caused by senators having affairs, congressmen having ‘accidentally’ killed people etc etc etc. Oh, and Olivia also happens to be the mistress of the President of the United States. Olivia was named in this Guardian article as evidence of ‘powerful’ political women on TV. And sure – it is great to see a her rather than a him leading a team of highly qualified people doing extraordinary work in the epicentre of US politics. But, do we REALLY need her to be the mistress of the President? No. Does this make her seem less powerful to me? Yes. And do her continued attempts to break up with him that never work out drive me crazy? Yes. But I still watch it. Why? Because it looks at the dirty side of politics, a side which, as much as we hate to admit it, is truly fascinating.
But a show that does this so much better – so well in fact that I hereby announce it as my favourite new show on TV – is House of Cards. The show – centred on the wheeling’s and dealings of not so scrupulous congressman Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) was also referenced in the same article about powerful women. No, Spacey isn’t doing a Jared Leto and playing a woman, his wife (Robin Wright) is as much a key player in his political ascent as he is. The thing I love most about this show – and there is so much to love, from the amazing script, to the fantastic use of breaking the fourth wall to the stellar cast – is the way it very slowly reveals things over time, in a subtle and nuanced way. It is like the anti-Scandal – instead of coming up with ridiculous and fantastical twists to shock viewers – it simply holds back information and then leaks it out over time. As such, you never really know what the end game is that Frank and his wife are trying to achieve – or even how their relationship really works. And that is what has me tuning in week after week (or in my case binge watching via 3Now – TV3’s new on demand app where all 13 episodes are available). If you haven’t seen it already, check it out – you won’t regret it.
But it is not all serious and dramatic in my political TV watching schedule. As The West Wing showed to hilarious effect, there is much comedy to be found in the political process – and demonstrating that at a local government level is Parks and Recreation. I know, I have gone on and on and on in blogs before about how great this show is – but it bears repeating. And – if there is one thing that the Guardian article got right – it was about Park’s main character and resident politician – Leslie Knope. She is everything you want a politician to be – passionate (to the point of crazy at times), authentic, honest and determined. If written by less talented writers she could be infinitely annoying – but instead is the best friend you wish you had. Of course surrounding her with a colourful cast of people – who are dotted widely across the political spectrum – helps to make Leslie both bearable and endearing. Because, at the end of the day – politicians are people too, and what you should really judge them on is not how well they make a stump speech, but how well they interact with others. And Leslie wins on all counts.
As often happens, fictional politicians always have me reflecting on our real life ones. Unfortunately we don’t have an erudite, eloquent and passionate Jed Bartlet for Prime Minister – instead we have Johnkey. I am pretty sure we have our fair share of unscrupulous Frank Underwoods though – but maybe not many who are quite as smart. But do we have a Leslie Knope? I could go off on a rant about how female MPs get a harsh deal from the press – and cite the recent example of a big deal being made of Meteria Turei’s high end wardrobe (seriously, when were a male MP’s clothes ever brought into question? Oh that’s right – never). But no – I would instead say – do we have people who are passionate, dedicated to their cause, determined to make a difference – not just for their own success but for the country and planet at large? I think we do – and I think if you look hard enough, no matter what side of the political divide you are on – you will find some too.