TV review: The Politician – Season 2

Payton Hobart is back.

Having licked his wounds after the bruising San Sebastian High School presidential battle, the ruthlessly ambitious Hobart (Ben Platt) now sets his sights on one of New York’s State senate seats for what will be his first real grownup political campaign. Incumbent State senator Dede Standish (Judith Light) initially seems secure, but her re-election campaign is soon threatened by rumours of the middle-aged veteran politician’s “throuple” polyamorous relationship with both her husband and boyfriend.

Hobart, now supported by most of his allies and a few rivals from his earlier campaign, soon appears to be making headway, despite the potential risk of exposure over his own three-way relationship with his girlfriend, Alice (Julia Schlaepfer) and his former rival, Astrid Sloan (Lucy Boynton). Ruthlessly exploiting the environment issue in a bid to establish a foothold among younger voters, Hobart soon becomes engaged in a protracted dirty tricks campaign waged against and also by, his more experienced political opponent, Standish.

More sustained than the first season which began promising much, but imploded fairly quickly, The Politician – Season 2 is enlivened by an enjoyable turn by Bette Midler as Standish’s passionate campaign manager. Hadassah Gold. Infinity Jackson (Zoey Deutch), one of the most memorable characters in the first season is back too (although doesn’t do a lot), while Gwyneth Paltrow returns as Hobart’s mother, herself engaged in a somewhat far-fetched campaign to become Governor of California driven by a plan to lead the state out of the USA entirely.

While Season 1 was almost wrecked completely by the terrible sixth episode The Voter, the sixth episode here (The Voters) deploys similar tactics to look at a mother and daughter’s separate experiences of Election Day. Thankfully, this time, it works. While as its Season 1 equivalent was derailed by its determination to show the unusual vices of its drug, sex and violence-obsessed subject, this time the tensions between the two more rounded characters provide us with a more valuable insight into the generational battles surrounding the campaign.

Ben Platt is good as before as the charismatic, scheming Payton Hobart, a sort of younger, better looking Richard Nixon for the 21st century. No less self-serving and paranoid than the disgraced 37th US president, Pitch Perfect’s Platt’s potential president is certainly a better singer than Nixon ever was and slightly better on the piano.

A fine series then, if perhaps not a great one. Not quite a full Obama but better than a Ford, this is a welcome escape from the real life horrors of the Trump era.

And the title sequence is still great.

History of British comics timeline: The 1990s

1990

Judge Dredd The Megazine begins. It is still gong today. Early stories include America and Young Death: Boyhood of a Superfiend.

In 2000AD itself, Judge Dredd faces Necropolis. Rogue Trooper appears in his own annual for the first and. to date, only time.

Edgy monthly Revolver featuring a dark new version of Dan Dare as well as Rogan Gosh and Happenstance and Kismet launches.

With many comics now struggling, adult comic Viz is thriving. Billy the Fish gets his own TV series, voiced by Harry Enfield.

Dennis the Menace TV cartoon on the Cartoon Channel. The Beano celebrates its 2,500th issue

After 34 years, The Beezer joins The Topper (by this point rebranded as Topper 90). The Beezer and Topper is formed.

After 21 years, Whizzer and Chips merges into Buster. Sid’s Snake, Sweeny Todd, Joker and Sweet Tooth are amongst those moving in.

1991

Viewed as a 2000AD for the 1990s, Toxic! featuring Accident Man and The Bogie Man appears. It folds within the year.

A short-lived TV version of Viz’s Roger Mellie The Man on the Telly appears. Roger is voiced by Peter Cook.

Lord Snooty, at this point the longest running Beano story ever, having appeared since 1938 ends. He returns later.

Mandy and Judy merge, later becoming M & J.

Starblazer ends. Revolver merges into Crisis. Crisis ends. For many British comcs, the crisis continues.

Dredd meets Batman in graphic novel, Judgement In Gotham.

1992

The game begins: Button Man debuts in 2000AD.

A TV film of The Bogie Man starring Robbie Coltrane airs.

1993

The final whistle blows for Roy of the Rovers comic. The second Eagle also ends, after just over a decade.

Beezer and Topper ends. Beryl the Peril joins The Dandy, The Numskulls find a home in The Beano. The Beano Video is released.

The controversial Big Dave appears in 2000AD.

The luckless sailor, Jonah, once of The Beano (as well as the short-lived Buddy), re-emerges in The Dandy.

1994

Look-In switches itself off.

1995

The final Deadline.

Two films, the long awaited Judge Dredd starring Sylvester Stallone and Tank Girl film starring Lori Petty are both released. Both are both are critical and commercial failures.

Judge Dredd: Lawman of the Future is launched. It s intended to capitalize on the hoped for success of the new Judge Dredd film. Sinister Dexter first appears in the regular 2000AD.

1996

Judge Dredd: Lawman of the Future fails. 2000AD (now struggling) reaches its 1,000th issue.

1997

M & J ends.

The Dandy turns 60.

1998

The Beano turns 60. The Beano Club replaces the Dennis the Menace Fan Club. Dennis’s sister Bea is born.

Nikolai Dante begins in 2000AD.

1999

Buster ends after forty years. Both the Buster story itself and many stories which have been running in Buster and other now long defunct titles such as Whizzer and Chips, Whoopee! and Wow! and Knockout since the 1960s and 1970s such as Sid’s Snake, Joker, Ivor Lott & Tony Broke and Sweeny Todd all come to an end.

2000

After a tough decade, 2000AD, appropriately enough, enjoys a big comeback from this year onward.

As of June 2020, it, Viz, Judge Dredd The Megazine, Doctor Who Monthly, Commando and The Beano are the only titles mentioned in any of these timelines which are still going today.

Chris Hallam is a freelance writer. Originally from Peterborough, he now lives in Exeter with his wife. He writes for a number of magazines including Yours Retro, Comic Scene and Best of British. He co-wrote the book, Secret Exeter (with Tim Isaac) and wrote A-Z of Exeter – People, Places, History. He was also the sole author of the 2014 annuals for The Smurfs, Furbys and Star Wars Clone Wars annuals as well as the 2015 Transformers annual.

History of British comics timeline: The 1980s

1980

The Beano celebrates its 2,000th issue.

Nutty is launched. It’s most memorable story, Bananaman quickly moves to the front page.

The first Judge Dredd annual is published. In 2000AD, Judge Death and Judge Anderson both appear as characters in the Dredd strip.

Speed comes and goes, merging into Tiger.

Mergers: Misty merges into Tammy. The Crunch merges into Hotspur. Penny merges into Jinty.

Doctor Who Weekly goes monthly

Buddy begins.

Smudge debuts in The Beano.

1981

A new version of Girl is launched.

The TV-themed Tops begins.

Mergers: Scoop merges into Victor. Jinty merges into Tammy. Hotspur merges into Victor.

The Nemesis the Warlock saga begins properly in 2000AD. The war also begins for Rogue Trooper while Judge Dredd battles an outbreak of Blockmania.

1982

High quality monthly Warrior begins. It is not especially war-like and features V For Vendetta, Marvelman (later Miracleman) and Laser Eraser and Pressbutton.

A new version of The Eagle begins. Dan Dare (or rather his great-great-grandson) appears as do the photo stories Doomlord and Joe Soap.

Judge Dredd fights the Apocalypse War.

Wow! begins.

Jackpot merges into Buster. Milly O’Naire and Penny Less merge with Buster’s Ivor Lott and Tony Broke strip (as the duo’s girlfriends) disappearing from the story in the late 1980s.

Cheeky merges into Whoopee!

The first Beano comic libraries (smaller, monthly comics, featuring one extended story) appear. Other comics follow suit.

1983

Nutty’s Bananaman gets his own TV series.

School Fun begins lessons (briefly).

Spike kicks off.

Mergers: Buddy merges into Spike. Wow! merges into Whoopee! (becoming Whoopee! and Wow!). Debbie (est: 1973) merges into Mandy.

Slaine goes into battle in 2000AD. Extra-terrestrial Skizz also debuts.

What will happen next? Cliff Hanger begins in Buster.

1984

High profile horror comic Scream! begins and ends. It merges into Eagle. The Thirteenth Floor is amongst the stories to move across.

Champ begins.

The Ballad of Halo Jones begins in 2000AD (it ends in 1986). Female-led strips are still a rarity in the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic. Nemesis is joined by the ABC Warriors in The Gothic Empire.

Mergers: TV Comic (est: 1951) switches itself off. Tops merges into Suzy. Tammy (est: 1971) merges into Girl. Spike merges into Champ. School Fun merges into Buster. School Belle is amongst those joining Buster.

Dennis’s pet pig, Rasher gets his own strip in The Beano (until 1988).

1985

Adult comic Viz featuring Roger Mellie the Man on The Telly, Billy The Fish and Sid the Sexist goes nationwide.

Whoopee! (est: 1974) merges into Whizzer and Chips. Warrior gives up the fight. Tiger (est: 1954) merges into The Eagle. Some strips move into Roy of the Rovers. Champ merges into Victor.

Judge Anderson gets a story of her own in 2000AD.

Nutty merges into The Dandy. Bananaman continues on TV until 1986 and continues to thrive in The Dandy. Bananaman appears in several of his own annuals in this decade too.

Ivy the Terrible debuts in The Beano.

Computer Warrior goes into battle in The Eagle.

Captain Britain Monthly, Hoot and Nikki all debut.

Beeb begins (and ends).

1986

The anarchic Oink! launches. ‘Edited’ by Uncle Pigg, stars include Pete and his Pimple, Burp The Smelly Alien From Outer Space and Hector Vector and his Talking T-Shirt.

Diceman, an RPG version of 2000AD runs out of luck quickly and ends.

Hoot merges into The Dandy. Cuddles and Dimples unite in one strip.

Captain Britain Monthly ends.

Calamity James begins in The Beano. Gnasher briefly goes missing in a high profile Dennis the Menace storyline. He soon returns with a litter of puppies including Gnipper. Gnasher and Gnipper now replaces Gnasher’s Tale as a story.

1987

Nipper begins then merges into Buster.

Zenith begins in 2000AD. Now ten years’ old, the comic adopts a more ‘mature’ approach.

The Dandy’s 50th birthday.

1988

Crisis, a more political and grown-up sister title to 2000AD begins featuring Third World War and The New Statesmen.

Deadline comic/magazine starring Tank Girl begins.

The Beano’s 50th birthday.

Mergers: Battle (est: 1974) merges into Eagle. Oink! merges into Buster.

1989

Nikki merges into Bunty. It’s Wicked! begins and ends.

The ‘original’ Dan Dare returns to The Eagle.

Fast Forward, a much-publicised TV-themed comic/magazine launches.

Whizzer and Chips (now struggling) celebrates its 20th birthday.

History of British comics timeline: The 1970s

1970

Cor!! is launched. Popular stories include Gus the Gorilla (“You can’t make a monkey out of Gus!”) and The Slimms. One story, Ivor Lott and Tony Broke lasts until 2000 (in Cor!! and elsewhere).

Scorcher, Thunder and Wizard (II) are all launched.

1971

Knockout is launched (an earlier Knockout ran between 1939 and 1963). Stories include Joker, Sammy Shrink, Fuss Pot, Dead Eye Dick and Beat Your Neighbour.

Chalky (“he’s quick on the draw!”) debuts in Cor!!

Countdown begins.

TV-themed magazine and comic Look-In is switched on.

Faceache debuts in Jet. Jet merges into Buster soon after.

Tammy begins.

Other mergers: Thunder merges into Lion. TV21 merges into Valiant.

1972

Babyface Finlayson, (“The Cutest Bandit in the West”) debuts in The Beano.

Rent-A-Ghost Ltd. debuts in Buster. It’s arrival predates TV’s Rentaghost by three years and they are unconnected.

School swot and teacher’s pet, Cuthbert Cringeworthy takes his place in Class 2B of Bash Street School.

Countdown turns into TV Action.

Sweet Tooth debuts in Whizzer and Chips.

1973

Supernatural comedy title, Shiver and Shake materialises, attempting a similar double-headed format to Whizzer and Chips. Enfant terrible, Sweeny Toddler is a highlight, long outlasting the comic itself.

Buzz starts as does girls’ title, Debbie.

Mergers: TV Action merges into TV Comic. Knockout merges into Whizzer and Chips, bringing Joker, Fuss Pot and Sammy Shrink with it.

Timothy Tester joins Whizzer and Chips.

1974

Dennis the Menace moves to the front-page of The Beano, ending Biffo the Bear’s 26-year reign there. Dennis has remained there ever since.

Whoopee! begins, featuring Clever Dick and The Bumpkin Billionaires (and soon, Sweeny Todd).

Jinty and Warlord both begin.

It is a tough year economically with a number of titles old and new folding: June (est: 1961) merges into Tammy. Lion (est: 1952) merges into Valiant. Romeo (est: 1957) merges into Diana. Scorcher merges into Tiger. Shiver and Shake merges into the new Whoopee!

Cor!! merges into Buster. Although the weekly comic proved short-lived, Cor!! annuals continue to appear until 1987.

1975

War comic Battle begins.

Cracker is launched.

X-Ray Specs debuts in Buster.

Monster Fun featuring Gums and Kid Kong appears. It is ‘edited’ by Frankie Stein, formerly of Shiver and Shake.

Ball Boy kicks off in The Beano.

Pete’s Pocket Grandpa fits comfortably into The Dandy.

Buzz merges into The Topper.

1976

The Dennis the Menace Fan Club is launched.

Action, the most controversial title of the 1970s, launches.

Krazy begins featuring The Krazy Gang and Birdman and Chicken. Pongalongapongo later Pongo Snodgrass makes his first appearance in The Krazy Gang.

Bullet, Captain Britain and Spellbound are launched.

Roy of the Rovers from Tiger gets his own comic. Tiger continues.

The Leopard of Lime Street creeps onto the pages of Buster.

Mergers: Monster Fun merges into Buster. Cracker merges into The Beezer. Diana (est: 1963) merges into Jackie. Hornet merges into Hotspur. Valiant (est: 1962) goes into Battle.

1977

The ‘Galaxy’s Greatest Comic’ 2000AD is launched, ‘edited’ by alien, Tharg the Mighty. A new Dan Dare strip features but the real star is futuristic lawman Judge Dredd who debuts in the second issue.

Plug, centered round the character from The Bash Street Kids is launched. Cheeky, based around a similar looking character previously in Krazy is launched a month later.

Sparky (est: 1965) merges into The Topper. Captain Britain ends.

Action ends. Contrary to legend, it is not banned but merges into Battle.

Spin-off strip Gnasher’s Tale begins in The Beano.

Tricky Dicky debuts in Topper. A different character with the same name previously appeared in Cor!!

1978

High quality 2000AD sister title Star Lord is launched. Sadly, it fails and merges into 2000AD quickly bringing Ro-Busters (featuring Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein) and Strontium Dog with it. All of these characters prove to be popular and enduring.

Sam Slade: Robohunter debuts in 2000AD.

Lazy Bones begins dozing away on the pages of Whizzer and Chips.

Book Worm debuts in Whoopee!

Emma begins as do the titles, Scoop and Misty.

Krazy merges into Whizzer and Chips bringing with it Pongo Snodgrass and The Krazy Gang. Spellbound merges into Debbie. Wizard merges into Victor. Bullet also misses its target and merges into Warlord. Target begins. It also misses its own target and promptly merges into TV Comic.

1979

Adventure comic Tornado follows a similar trajectory to Star Lord (1978), quickly merging into 2000AD. No titles have merged into 2000AD in the forty years since. Hammerstein from Ro-Busters now joins the ABC Warriors. Ro-Jaws joins him later. Judge Dredd goes into The Cursed Earth.

Jackpot begins. Stories include Jack Pott (originally from Cor!!), Laser Eraser, The Incredible Sulk and Milly O’Naire and Penny Less.

Plug merges into The Beezer. For a short while, Plug thus has his own strip in The Beezer while also appearing regularly as usual in The Bash Street Kids in The Beano.

Rasher, Dennis’s pet pig debuts in Dennis the Menace.

General Jumbo is retired from The Beano after 26 years of service.

The first Bash Street Kids’ Book appears (dated: 1980). Dennis the Menace is the only other Beano character to have got his own annual.

Emma merges into Judy.

Tricky Dicky replaces Danny’s Tranny (ahem) on the front page of Topper.

The Crunch, Doctor Who Weekly, Penny and Starblazer all begin.

Acclaimed strip, Charlie’s War begins in Battle.

Chris Donald begins selling homemade copies of his adult comic Viz around pubs in Newcastle.

The ‘new’ Dan Dare fizzles out in 2000AD. Judge Dredd is now unquestionably the comic’s main strip.

History of British comics timeline: The 1960s

1960

Buster comic begins. The title character is originally described as ‘the son of Andy Capp’ although this is soon forgotten about.

Pre-teen girls’ comic/magazine Judy begins.

Corporal Clott enlists in The Dandy, just as National Service comes to an end. He serves the comic loyally until 1970.

1961

Winker Watson ‘the world’s wiliest wangler’ debuts in The Dandy.

The Dandy and The Beano both celebrate their 1,000th issues.

The Victor is launched.

Commando War Stories in Pictures is launched, later known as Commando. It is still going today.

June comic begins.

Send For Kelly (about an inept special agent) begins in The Topper.

1962

The Numskulls debut in The Beezer.

Valiant begins.

Film Fun (est: 1920) ends. Radio Fun (1938-61. merges into Buster) and TV Fun (1953-59) all end during this period.

1963

A Dandy-Beano joint Summer Special appears. The first separate Dandy and Beano Summer Specials appear in 1964.

The original Knock-Out ends. having started in 1939. The title is revived in the 1970s.

Swift merges int The Eagle.

The Hornet begins.

1964

Billy Whizz races onto the pages of The Beano.

‘Rollicking robot’ Brassneck debuts in The Dandy.

Girls’ comic/magazine Jackie is launched.

The Big One is launched, merging into Buster the following year.

Girl ends, after fourteen years, merging into Princess (1960-67). it is revived in the 1980s.

1965

Sparky comic ignites. Keyhole Kate (once of The Dandy) is amongst those appearing.

TV21 begins.

School Friend (est: 1950) merges into June.

1967

Bully Beef and Chips first clash in The Dandy.

Pup Parade, a canine version of The Bash Street Kids, arrives in The Beano.

The long-running Mandy begins.

Giggles starts. Like an actual giggle it only lasts briefly, merging into Buster in 1968.

TV Tornado comes and goes quickly, becoming absorbed by TV21 in 1968.

The Eagle is by now and clear decline. New Dan Dare stories stop appearing in the weekly comic.

1968

Dennis the Menace gets a new pet dog, Abyssinian wire-haired tripe hound, Gnasher

Twinkle is launched.

Jag is launched. It merges into another big cat, Tiger in 1969.

Buster’s Diary is replaced by Buster’s Dream World.

1969

‘Two-in-one, two times the fun!’ Whizzer and Chips launches with an unusual double-headed format. Sid’s Snake stars in Whizzer, amateur pugilist Shiner in Chips. Wear ‘Em Out Wilf, Champ and the long-running Odd Ball are all in the first issue.

Robin ends, after sixteen years. It was the most enduring of The Eagle’s sister titles.

After a decade of decline, The Eagle itself ends, merging into Lion. It is the end of an era.

History of British comics timeline: The 1950s

1950

The Eagle launches featuring the futuristic Dan Dare – Pilot of the Future on the front page. His first story-line sees him traveling to Venus where he encounters the Treens led by the malevolent Mekon. Other early Eagle stories include PC49, Harris Tweed and Riders of the Range.

Canine hero, Black Bob becomes the first Dandy character to star in his own annual. Seven more Black Bob books appear before 1965.

School Friend begins. Stories include The Silent Three At St Kit’s. It is reportedly the biggest selling girls’ comic ever, at one point selling one million copies a week.

1951

Dennis the Menace makes his debut in The Beano. Biffo the Bear remains on the front page.

Girl, a sister comic to The Eagle is launched. Early stories include Kitty Hawke and Her All-Girl Air Crew, Lettice Leefe: The Greenest Girl In School and nautical adventure, Captain Starling.

Dan Dare embarks on The Red Moon Mystery.

1952

Dan Dare is Marooned on Mercury. Luck of the Legion also debuts in the comic this year.

Adventure comic, Lion, a potential rival to The Eagle is launched. Memorable characters include Robot Archie (initially referred to as The Jungle Robot).

Gerald Campion debuts in the title role in TV’s Billy Bunter of Greyfriars School. The character first appeared in Magnet in 1908.

1953

The Topper first appears. Mickey the Monkey appears on the cover but the most memorable character is Beryl the Peril.

A new comic Robin is launched. It is intended to be a companion paper to The Eagle. It is aimed at the under-eights and features TV’s Andy Pandy as a regular character.

A vintage year for The Beano with Little Plum, Minnie the Minx, General Jumbo and Roger the Dodger all making their first appearance. A school-based story, When The Bell Rings also debuts. This later becomes The Bash Street Kids.

Dan Dare launches Operation Saturn.

TV Fun is launched, accompanying the long-running Film Fun and Radio Fun.

1954

Yet another companion to The Eagle appears. Swift is aimed at even younger readers than Robin. Tarna: Jungle Boy, Mono the Moon Man and a comic version of radio’s Educating Archie all appear.

Tiger comic arrives. The first issue features footballing legend, Roy of the Rovers.

The first Desperate Dan ‘annual’ appears. Only four more appear in 1978, 1990, 1991 and 1992.

The Dan Dare story, Prisoners of Space begins.

1955

The first Dennis the Menace Book is published. Dennis is the first Beano character to get his own annual. He now appears in colour on the back page of The Beano every week.

Keyhole Kate leaves The Dandy. She will return.

Dan Dare appears in The Man From Nowhere.

1956

New arrival The Beezer joins The Topper on newsagent shelves. Ginger dominates the front page.

When The Bell Rings, in The Beano, changes its name to The Bash Street Kids.

1957

Much-loved children’s TV series Captain Pugwash begins. It was originally a short-lived story in The Eagle in 1950.

Jonah, the hopeless sailor, sets sail in The Beano.

Amnesiac Mark Question (‘The Boy With A Future But No Past!’) debuts in The Eagle. The Reign of the Robots begins in Dan Dare.

1958

Bunty begins. Strips include The Four Marys (‘Fun at boarding school with a frolicsome foursome’).

Colonel Blink, the Short-Sighted Gink stumbles onto the pages of The Beezer.

Topper’s Beryl the Peril appears in her first annual, this Christmas.

1959

The Three Bears blast off in The Beano.

The long-running Hotspur folds. A text-based story paper rather than a comic, it is replaced by The New Hotspur which is definitely a comic.

Blu-ray/DVD review: Laughter in Paradise (1951)

After a long life of pranks and practical jokes, the wealthy Henry Russell (Hugh Griffith) is dead, leaving aside a substantial sum of money to four of his relatives. But old Henry being Henry, things are not going to be quite as simple as that. For each of his relatives are all flawed in various different ways and under the terms of the old rascal’s will, each will have to complete a very specific task before they can get at his money. Each challenge has been perfectly designed to force them to confront their own worst failings.

Agnes (Fay Compton), for example, a dreadful snob is forced to spend a full month in the employ of a middle-class family headed, in this case, by a hypochondriac Scot (played by John Laurie, later of Dad’s Army). For the supremely timid young bank clerk, Herbert (George Cole), however, the task is different. He must stage a hold up at the very bank he works for using a water pistol. Simon (Guy Middleton), meanwhile, is a first-class cad and a womaniser in the mould of the type of characters Terry-Thomas often used to play in films like this. He is obliged to marry the first single woman he speaks to, to get his share of the loot. He actually cheats straight away ignoring the first single woman he meets, a beautiful but presumably penniless young cigarette seller. This very small part is played by Audrey Hepburn in her screen debut.

Finally, there is Deniston (Alastair Sim), a retired army officer, whose life is already pretty complicated even before Henry’s demise. Publicly engaged to an overenthusiastic armed services girl, ‘Fluffy’ (Joyce Grenfell, great as ever), Deniston leads a double life enjoying a secret career dictating the trashy American-style crime novels he has composed to his adoring secretary (Eleanor Summerfield) which are then published under a variety of pseudonyms. Deniston’s task is to commit one actual genuine crime which will seem him incarcerated for precisely 28 days. Sim’s character finds the execution of this, surprisingly difficult.

There are a few extras. Although he obviously hasn’t watched the film that recently, Stephen Fry’s knowledge and genuine love for the film is obvious during his interview. We also get to see Sim hamming it up as the Roman Emperor Nero opposite his frequent co-star George Cole in a wartime short. More dedicated Sim fans might want to listen to his 1949 speech delivered on being elected Rector of Edinburgh University (beating future Prime Minister Harold Macmillan) in full.

Newly restored nearly seventy-years after it first appeared, Laughter In Paradise is still lots of fun. Alastair Sim, in particular gets some marvellous screen moments, self-consciously turning a bust of Shakespeare the other way at one point so as if to prevent the Bard seeing him delivering the particularly purple prose of his latest potboiler (e.g. “she was one hot tomato”). Other brilliant sequences see him make several abortive attempts to throw a brick – for some reason, neatly tied up in string – through a jeweller’s shop window and and a long, drawn out attempt to get caught shoplifting an umbrella in a Piccadilly department store. “The wrong tartan,” he explains, on returning it, embarrassed.

A genuine classic.

Vintage Classics. Studio Canal. Original release: 1951. Cert: U.

Release date: 29 June 2020

Running time: 80 minutes

Directed: Mario Zampi

Cast: Alastair Sim, George Cole, Fay Compton, Guy Middleton, Joyce Grenfell, Hugh Griffith, Audrey Hepburn

DVD/Blu-ray extras:

New Alastair Sim and Laughter In Paradise Interview with Stephen Fry

Ministry of Information short Nero: Save Fuel (1943) starring Alastair Sim and George Cole

Stills Gallery

Alastair Sim’s 1949 Rectorial Address at Edinburgh University (Audio Only)

Easter Egg

DVD/Blu-Ray review: The Green Man (1956)

The 1950s was undoubtedly a classic period in the career of character actor, Alastair Sim. This film sees him playing Hawkins, a watchmaker who also operates as an assassin. Early scenes demonstrate how Hawkins has often adopted a variety of ingenious disguises before successfully blowing up his victims. His main target here is an adulterous politician Sir Gregory Upshott (Raymond Huntley) who he tracks to a hotel, The Green Man of the title.

It isn’t long before things take a farcical turn as a vacuum cleaner salesman curiously called William Blake (a young George Cole) and a local beauty (Jill Adams) get drawn into proceedings. With Terry-Thomas playing a philandering cad called Charles Boughtflower and a trio of elderly female musicians also becoming involved, Hawkins’ carefully laid out plans soon descend into chaos.

Although hardly groundbreaking, The Green Man is pleasantly enjoyable fare, packed with familiar faces recognisable to anyone who enjoys post-war British cinema. Can you spot Michael Ripper, Dora Bryan and Arthur Lowe?

And unlike Sim’s hapless assassin, this is a comedy which rarely misses its target.

Vintage Classics

Studio Canal

Directed by: Robert Day

Starring: Alastair Sim, George Cole, Terry-Thomas, Jill Adams, Raymond Huntley

TV review: Normal People

As the nation has grown accustomed to lockdown in the wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, many have naturally turned more frequently to their TVs for entertainment, with some series inevitably faring better than others during this highly unusual period.

One notable success story in the last two weeks has been the new adaptation of Sally Rooney’s acclaimed 2018 novel, Normal People. Although only half way through its 12 episode terrestrial TV run (episodes 5 and 6 will be screened tonight – that is, Monday May 11th 2020 on BBC One from 9pm), the series which is directed by Lenny Abrahamson and Hettie Macdonald, has been a huge success on the BBC iPlayer. It has, in fact, become the most requested ever show on the BBC streaming service, beating a record set by the first series of action-packed international drama, Killing Eve in 2018.

NORMAL PEOPLE

Normal People is essentially the tale of the on-off love story over a number of years between a young couple, Marianne Sheldon and Connell Waldron, who begin a relationship initially while as teenagers nearing the end of their schooldays in County Sligo in the Irish Republic. Both are very bright and have much in common, although these things are not necessarily immediately obvious to those around them. At school, Connell (Paul Mescal) is sporty, amiable and popular. In the US, he would be described as a ‘jock’ and keeps his more sensitive literary side fairly well-hidden. Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones), in contrast, is clever and sensitive too but at school is spiky, rebellious and more socially intimidating. Although, she too, is attractive, she is so unpopular, the other pupils rarely acknowledge this, perhaps not even to themselves. Her relationship with Connell is conducted in the utmost secrecy, during their time at school.

Although he has a happier home life, the Waldrons are much less well-off than the Sheldons, Connell’s mother in fact working as a cleaner in Marianne’s mother’s house. We soon learn Marianne’s domestic existence is deeply unhappy, however. The household is unloving, cold, sterile and ultimately abusive. As the couple’s relationship progresses to Trinity College, Dublin, the two see their roles effectively reversed with Marianne becoming much confident and at ease than the now more awkward Connell, having reinvented herself in her new largely middle-class environment.

Doubtless some of the series’ popularity stems from the potentially voyeuristic appeal of the show’s frequent sex scenes, though these are never pornographic or salacious in tone. Beautifully acted, particularly by its two leads who are surely now both destined for stardom, sensitive and intelligent in its portrayal of an evolving relationship, Normal People is a drama which deserves its success.

There is talk now of producing a TV version of Sally Rooney’s debut novel, Conversations With Friends, or perhaps a TV sequel to Normal People (no literary sequel to the book yet exists).

But, in truth, Normal People is that rarest of things: a TV series which is actually better than the novel which inspired it.

Book review: The Human Factor

Thirty years ago, the Cold War came to a peaceful end. Germany was reunified. A wave of mostly peaceful uprisings occurred across the so-called Eastern Bloc in 1989 before finally in 1991, the Soviet Union itself disintegrated completely.

Such developments would have seemed unthinkable only a few years earlier. Russian communism had dominated Eastern Europe since 1917 with the intense rivalry between the Soviet Union and the United States threatening to destroy humanity following the superpower arms build-up which escalated soon after the end of the Second World War.

As Archie Brown demonstrates in this book the fact that this amazing development was able to occur at all owes itself almost entirely to ‘the human factor,’ namely the unique personalities of three world leaders during the second half of the 1980s. The personality of one of these leaders in fact, was especially critical.

Many in the west were alarmed when Ronald Reagan won the presidency in November 1980. A onetime Hollywood actor who had been a liberal Democrat until his early fifties, Reagan had strong enough conservative credentials by 1980, that he was able to preside over a thaw in East-West relations without stoking fears that he might be appeasing the Soviets. The British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher meanwhile was not as slavish in her support for Reagan and the US as is sometimes made out. She and Reagan were friends and shared the same ideological free market perspective, but there were occasional fallings out. Crucially, on the major issue of East-West relations, however, she and the 40th US president always stood shoulder to shoulder.

However, it was the third actor, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev who was utterly indispensable to the whole process. Make no mistake: without Mikhail Gorbachev there would have been no end to the Cold War. The Berlin Wall would not have fallen. The USSR would not have collapsed. Remarkable leaders though they in many ways were, the same cannot be said of Reagan or the so-called ‘Iron Lady.’

Gorbachev’s attitude and politics were utterly unique within Soviet politics at the time. Nor is it true that he (or anyone) was browbeaten into submission by the United States’ continued hard line. There is no evidence to support this whatsoever.

As the only one of these three figures still alive in May 2020, the world really owes the elderly Mr. Gorbachev a huge debt of thanks. As Archie Brown notes, it was he who made all the difference.

Gorbachev, not Reagan and certainly not Thatcher, ended the Cold War.

The Human Factor: Gorbachev, Reagan and Thatcher and the End of the Cold War, by Archie Brown. Out Now. Published by Oxford University.

Exeter and the Black Death

Nobody would deny that 2020 has been a very challenging year for many people as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be felt throughout the world. However, it is worth remembering that hard as things are now, there have often been much darker times in the past, as this extract from my book, A-Z of Exeter – Places, People, History (Amberley, 2019) reminds us:

“Although historical detail on the outbreaks is perhaps mercifully rather lacking, the several outbreaks of plague to hit the city in medieval times were probably the worst things to ever happen in Exeter.

Just as the disastrous 1918-19 influenza pandemic was contributed to by the return of servicemen from the First World War, the return of warriors from the Sixth Crusade probably helped facilitate the spread the plague to many areas including Exeter in 1234. It is thought more than two thirds of the city’s population died. Life for the remaining 30% (or so) during this dark period could not have been very pleasant either.

In 1349-1351, the survivors’ great-grandchildren went through much the same thing when The Black Death hit the city with particular severity. This time, half of the city was wiped out. A further third were killed when the plague returned eleven years’ later. Amongst other things, the outbreaks led to a delay in the competition of the construction of Exeter Cathedral.

In general, it is believed the global population fell from 450 million to 375 million as a result of the Black Death with the population not returning to its previous level for around 200 years.

The plague returned again in 1479-80 and again (now after the medieval era) in 1542, claiming the life of the father of Tudro historian John Hooker amongst many others.

Later, the city braced itself for the arrival of the Great Plague in 1665. Preparations were made. Fear was widespread. Mercifully, this time, Exeter was spared.

Exeter has also been subject to other periodic outbreaks of disease. Just over 400 people were killed by a cholera outbreak in Exeter and St Thomas in 1832.”

A-Z of Exeter – Places, People, History (2019) is available now from Amberley books. https://amzn.to/2WpWHFH

Empty World: Revisited

If you studied English at secondary school during the 1990s, there is every possibility you will remember reading the book, Empty World, by John Christopher.

The book tells of a disease which originates in Asia before rapidly spreading across the world and devastating the global population. Although published in 1977, with the world currently seeking to combat the spread of the Chinese Coronavirus pandemic, the book obviously has plenty of resonance to anyone reading it in 2020.

The novella focuses on a teenaged boy, Neil Miller. Neil is living with his elderly parents after having been orphaned in a road accident when he first begins to hear news reports of a new mysterious disease coming out of India. Initially, just a minor story chuntering away in the background, concern rises as the ‘Calcutta Plague’ spreads further and further across the world. Soon there are rumours it has arrived in Britain. Neil’s grandfather is old enough to remember the Second World War. He suggests spreading rumours should be made into a punishable offence again, as it was then.

Soon the Calcutta Plague’s presence in Britain is beyond doubt. One of Neil’s elderly teachers succumbs to it as do both his grandparents. The disease takes the form of a fever, before generating symptoms which appear to emulate a very rapid version of the ageing process. This is not very similar to COVID-19 at all, although the fictional plague does attack older people first. Eventually, it becomes clear that it is infecting pretty much everyone including some children Neil knows of his age (fifteen) and younger. This resembles the progress of COVID-19 in some respects. The elderly are undoubtedly being hit harder by the virus although contrary to early rumour, children can get it badly and die from it too.

The key difference, however, is that while the vast, overwhelming majority of people who get COVID-19 survive, with the exception of a few random people like Neil who get the initial fever but subsequently seem to be immune, the fictional Calcutta Plague kills anyone who gets it. As the title suggests, the book is essentially apocalyptic. Neil finds himself roaming or driving down completely empty streets, looting empty shops and  battling an inevitable brief explosion in the rat population, the disease having killed nearly every human on the Earth.

As terrible as COVID-19 is, we should be grateful it is not quite as bad as that.

The Best UK sitcoms of the 21st century so far…Spaced (1999-2001)

Spaced is the story of Tim and Daisy, two young people in need of somewhere to live.

Daisy is a frustrated writer, keen to escape life in a squat. Tim is a small-time cartoonist who has been forced to move out after discovering his girlfriend has been having an affair with his best friend.

Together they hatch a plan. Despite not being a couple or even friends really (they have met by chance in a café), having spied a reasonably priced flat to rent advertised as being only available to “professional couples only,” they decide to present themselves as a happily married couple to the apartment’s landlady.

This in essence is the premise of Spaced. Although as Tim himself would say, “it’s a bit more complicated than that.”

Spaced ran for two series on Channel 4 in 1999 and 2001 and proved the perfect calling card for its two writers and stars, Simon Pegg (Tim) and Jessica Stevenson (now Jessica Hynes, who plays Daisy) with the show’s unseen force, the hugely talented director, Edgar Wright also making an impact.

Straddling the millennia, technically only the second of the two series is a 21st century sitcom and thus eligible for this list. But who cares? Both series are great anyway, for a number of reasons…

Firstly, whether its Tim railing against the evils of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (a film which Peter Serafinowicz who plays his hated love rival, Duane Benzie actually features in), Daisy attempting to write her masterpiece to the theme from Murder She Wrote, or Wright skilfully evoking memories of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, Spaced is packed to the brim with clever popular culture references.

Secondly, many of the episodes are masterpieces in their own right. Tim and his war-obsessed friend Mike played paintball, long before the guys on Peep Show or US shows like Big Bang Theory and Community did it. Another episode skilfully turns the TV show, Robot Wars into a real life conflict while ‘Gone’ sees the stars engaged in an ingenious mimed gun battle governed by ‘masculine telepathy’ at the end of a drunken night out. And that’s not to mention the celebrated Epiphanies episode in which Tim’s odd friend Wheels (Michael Smiley) takes the gang clubbing.

Then, there’s the brilliant supporting cast. Pegg’s real life best friend and flatmate, the then unknown Nick Frost plays Tim’s war-obsessed pal, Mike, a man once expelled from the Territorial Army for “stealing a tank and attempting to invade Paris”. Or Brian (Friday Night Dinner’s Mark Heap) an eccentric artist who has an ‘arrangement’ with landlady, Marsha (Julia Deakin). There’s also a supporting cast which includes a whole host of rising comedy stars including David Walliams, Paul Kaye, Bill Bailey and Ricky Gervais.

But finally there’s the best reason of all: Spaced is likeable, endless quotable, highly watchable and very, very funny.

The 2020s vs the 1920s

Which key events of the Roaring 20s are likely to happen again in the next decade?
1. A General Strike: possible but unlikely.
2. Stock Market Crash: very likely, but hopefully on a smaller scale.
3. Silly dancing trends, fashion and slang adopted: certain.
4. Republicans win 3 presidential elections as US retreats into isolationism: sadly seems very plausible.
5. Italy descends into fascism: I hope not!
6. Brits triumph at Olympics after running in slow motion to Vangelis music on a beach: er…
7. The Queen and Sir David Attenborough are born. Unlikely. In fact, probably quite the opposite?
Happy New Decade readers!

Exeter 2019 General Election Hustings Debate

With the General Election just ten days away, around 300 people chose to brave the cold December Monday evening air to see four of the six candidates competing to be Exeter’s next MP answer a selection of selected questions submitted by the general public inside Exeter Cathedral.

Two of the candidates were absent: Former pantomime star Daniel Page who is running as an independent and the Brexit Party candidate, Leslie Willis did not attend.

The Liberal Democrats (who performed very poorly in the 2015 and 2017 elections in Exeter) also did not attend as they are not fielding a candidate in this election. The party agreed to step aside to the give the pro-Remain Green Party candidate Joe Levy, a clear run. The Labour candidate, Mr. Bradshaw is also very pro-EU. However, Labour’s overall position is seen as less unambiguously pro-Remain than the Greens. (This paragraph has been amended as of 8th December 2019).

None of the candidates are women: the first time this has been the case in Exeter since 1987.

After some initial sound problems, proceedings began. Although each candidate answered each question individually, I’ll deal with each candidate, one at a time:

Ben Bradshaw (Labour)

This is the seventh election in Exeter for Labour’s Bradshaw and as he won his biggest ever victory in 2017 with 62% of the vote, it must be assumed he is the favourite to win again his time. He performed strongly on questions ranging from climate change, homelessness, transport, Brexit and the party leadership. He lamented the fact that Labour’s successful record on reducing homelessness had been completely undone by the Tories since 2010 and complained that environmental targets would be threatened by us leaving the EU.

He resisted attacking the Labour leadership or predicting a heavy Tory win nationwide as he did in 2017 and provided a convincing defence of Labour’s proposed nationalisation programme. He criticised the First Past the Post system which he campaigned to reform in the 2011 referendum. He argued that the best way to stop Brexit was by electing as many Labour MPs as possible and followed Green candidate Joe Levy’s lead in deriding the notion that a Tory win would mean a quick and easy end to Brexit as a nonsense. He also asked voters to judge him on his record as MP for Exeter since 1997.

John Gray (Conservative)

The Conservative candidate began with an interesting question. How many of the audience had actually read the Conservative manifesto? Very few hands were raised. This would doubtless have produced a similar response if he had asked about the other party manifestos too. But it was a welcome piece of audience participation in an evening which generally did not involve much audience response, aside from clapping and occasional grumbling. Perhaps it would have been a different story if the pantomime man had turned up?

Elsewhere, Mr Gray gave decent, worthy answers, some of which were undermined by the government’s record. He was predictably negative about nationalisation, although not very specific on why and gave good answers on the environment. He argued, as the UKIP candidate did, that the 2016 Brexit vote represented the will of the people. His claim that an overall majority for Boris Johnson’s Tories would lead to a quick and easy end to Brexit was derided by Joe Levy and Ben Bradshaw. His portrait of a Labour government torn apart by coalitions and confusion was similar to the ‘coalition of chaos’ arguments deployed by Tories in 2015. Some in the audience might have reflected that the decade since 2010 has been spent almost entirely under Tory rule and yet has been almost entirely spent in coalition or/and hung parliaments. The last three years particularly have seen more political chaos than anyone can remember.

Later, he was laughed at by many in the audience after he asserted that “a vote for Labour is a vote for Jeremy Corbyn, while a vote for me, is a vote for a Conservative government.” Bradshaw and others were quick to note his failure to mention Boris Johnson at this point. Later, he attempted to endorse Boris Johnson again. It did not seem entirely convincing. However, in general, Mr. Gray performed well.

Joe Levy (Green Party)

As in the 2017 campaign, Joe Levy, though still in his twenties stood out as one of the most impressive figures in the debate, making a convincing case for such concepts as the introduction of a universal basic income and, of course, the urgency of the need to combat climate change.

He drew particular applause for his passionate advocacy of EU membership, arguing his grandparents had supported it for the simple primary reason that they remembered the Second World War.

He also made a mockery of the general Conservative claim that a Tory win will automatically lead to a simple straightforward Brexit. Mr Bradshaw, picked up on this, agreeing that it was one of the biggest and most persistent lies of the Tory campaign.

Duncan Odgers (UKIP)

Arriving slightly late, Mr Odgers annoyed many in the audience, by asserting early on that contrary to popular belief immigration is a major problem in Exeter, in fact, largely explaining why house prices are high. Elsewhere, he performed well on other issues, even acknowledging climate change exists. He argued against nationalisation and argued Exeter (which voted 55 to 45 to remain in the EU) should respect the will of the nation as a whole on Brexit even if the city mostly did not support it itself. He spoke of Brexit as if it was something destined never to happen now and called Jeremy Corbyn’s position of neutrality on the issue, “a disgrace”. Occasionally, he rambled slightly. He blamed overpopulation for many of our environmental problems, but did not say what could be done about it.

A persistent charge, which many would agree with, was that many people today have lost faith in the current crop of politicians. A wider issue which wasn’t addressed was whether the upper ranks of UKIP who have included the likes of Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall in the past are really any more trustworthy.

Chris Hallam has written A-Z of Exeter: People, Places, History and co-wrote the book, Secret Exeter with Tim Isaac. Both are published by Amberley and are available now

TV review: The Crown. Season 3, Episode 3

On October 21st 1966, after a period of heavy rain, 30,000 cubic yards of coal sludge collapsed on 19 houses and a primary school in Aberfan with predictably devastating results. Episode 3 of The Crown focuses on he disaster and its aftermath. The Queen herself reacts slowly to the tragedy, forcing her to confront her own apparent tendency to react with the traditional stoicism and reserve to such events, rather than the public show of emotion which might be expected or even needed by the watching public in the media age. The monarch would, of course, fall foul of similar issues following the death of Diana, 31 years’ later.

TV review: The Crown. Season 3, Episode 1

The Crown is back. We rejoin proceedings at the dawn of a new era.

For after two glorious seasons with the marvelous Claire Foy playing the Princess and young Queen in her twenties and thirties, we now give way to the new age of Olivia Colman. The transition is neatly symbolised by a tactful discussion of a new Royal portrait for a new range of postage stamps. It is 1964 and the monarch is in her late thirties, what might normally be seen as her “middle years.”

“A great many changes. But there we are,” Colman’s Queen remarks. “Age is rarely kind to anyone. Nothing one can do about it. One just has to get on with it.”

Other changes are afoot too. Then, as now, a general election is in progress, resulting in the election of the first Labour Prime Minister of the Queen’s reign, Harold Wilson. Jason Watkins captures Wilson’s manner perfectly, although not yet his wit. In time, we now know Wilson would become the favourite of the Queen’s Prime Ministers. At this stage, however, both figures are wary of each other: the working class Wilson seems socially insecure and chippy while the Queen has heard an unfounded rumour from Prince Philip (Tobias Menzies – a good likeness) that Wilson is a KGB agent.

Elsewhere, another age comes to an end as the elderly Churchill breathes his last. In a rare piece of casting continuity, John Lithgow briefly resumes his role.

Suspicion also surrounds Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures, Anthony Blunt. Although not exactly a dead ringer for the art historian and Soviet spy, Samuel West is well cast as Blunt. West is a fine actor anyway but his lineage here is impeccable. His mother, Prunella Scales played the Queen in the Alan Bennett drama, A Question of Attribution, which was about Blunt and which parts of this episode strongly resemble. Blunt then was played by James Fox, whose brother Edward, incidentally played Churchill in The Audience, the Peter Morgan play which inspired this series. West also played the Queen’s father George VI in the (not very good) film, Hyde Park on the Hudson. His wife, the future Queen Mother was played by one Olivia Colman. West’s father, Timothy, of course, famously played George VI’s grandfather, Edward VII (and also played Churchill, several times), while Colman won an Oscar for playing the Queen’s ancestor, Queen Anne in The Favourite, earlier this year.

Fellow Oscar winner, Helena Bonham Carter is, of course, now cast as the Queen’s glamorous but troubled sister, Princess Margaret here, replacing the excellent Vanessa Kirby. The makers clearly feel obliged to feature Margaret frequently in this episode, presumably because of Bonham Carter’s star status, but aside from much drinking, rudeness, singing and fretting about her wayward photographer husband Armstrong-Jones (Ben Daniels), who is pictured motorbiking about a lot, she does little of interest.

The next episode promises to be much more Margaret-orientated…

The Crown

Book review: Why We Get The Wrong Politicians

Book review: Why We Get The Wrong Politicians, by Isabel Hardman. Published by: Atlantic Books.

As British voters prepare to go to the polls for the fourth time this decade, it is well worth bearing in mind: the way we select our politicians is awful.

You don’t actually have to be rich to become an MP, but as Isabel Hardman’s book highlights, the process of standing for parliament is so expensive, time consuming and arduous, it’s a wonder anyone ever does it in the first place. Most candidates in the current general election campaign will never become MPs. And even if they do, the labyrinthine world of Westminster offers so little support to new members, that many of them will find themselves falling victim to alcoholism or marital breakdown. Of course, many also often find themselves subject to personal abuse, on Twitter, on nastier versions of blogs like this or in what is sometimes referred to as “the real world”.

Hardman (the Deputy Editor of The Spectator) admits to some well-intentioned sleight of hand here. Despite the book’s title, she is not actually attacking politicians as a class. She does not pander to the popular stereotype that all or even most MPs are lazy, out of touch or corrupt. Although she does not shy away from recounting examples of abuse, she reminds us that the vast majority of MPs are hardworking, dedicated people. Attending regular surgeries and hearing constituents’ problems arguably puts them more in touch with ordinary people’s problems than the average person.

Hardman’s argument is that the current system is deeply flawed, often resulting in unsatisfactory laws.

It is an excellent book and a difficult argument to refute.

Book review: Where Power Stops, by David Runciman

Book review: Where Power Stops: The Making and Unmaking of Presidents and Prime Ministers, by David Runciman. Published by: Profile Books.

The premise is simple enough. David Runciman takes a look at some of the most interesting recent British and American leaders and sees what we can learn from their experiences of leadership. His choice of subjects is in itself fascinating.

Lyndon B. Johnson: a huge, cajoling, powerful figure, the choice of LBJ nevertheless seems slightly odd, simply because his tenure (1963-69) was so much earlier than everyone else included here. Runciman also inevitably relies on Robert Caro’s masterful biography of the 36th US president. Still unfinished, Caro’s magnum opus has barely touched on Johnson’s years in the White House yet. Let’s hope he gets to finish it.

Runciman has a talent for shedding new light on potentially over-familiar topics. All manner of leader is included here. Amongst others, the list includes: exceptional men who fell slightly short of the high hopes they raised on the campaign trail (Barack Obama), good leaders who trashed their own reputations on leaving office (Tony Blair), the highly intelligent and flawed (Bill Clinton and Gordon Brown), the decent but narrow (Theresa May) and the ultimate narcissist, the abominable showman (Donald Trump). The last of these should never have got close to power in the first place. Unhappily, he is the only one included here who is still there.

The fascinating story of the implosion of John Edwards’ 2008 presidential campaign will doubtless make a great film one day. As he never made it to the presidency, however, it doesn’t really belong here. But, overall, Runciman does an excellent job. The book is manna for political geeks like myself.

TV review: The Politician – Season 1

Payton Hobart really wants to be president. He really, really wants it, in fact. He seems to have planned out every detail of his two terms in the White House already. And he is only seventeen years old. He seems to the living example of why anyone who wants to be president enough to successfully go through the process of being successfully elected is probably precisely the wrong person to be doing the job.

Netflix’s new comedy drama begins with Peyton (Ben Platt) launching his campaign for election to the position of student body president of his Santa Barbara high school. This proves to be a surprisingly big deal fought with almost all of the intensity of the actual presidential elections, Hobart imagines one day fighting himself. Indeed, that’s the plan for the series too: future seasons of The Politician aim to focus on different political campaigns occurring throughout Peyton’s life. The brilliant opening title sequence (which uses the excellent 2005 song, Chicago, by Sufjan Stevens) depicts Peyton the politician being created by a Frankenstein-like process of alchemy, before offering his hand to greet the viewer.

The opening episodes of Ryan Murphy’s series are very twisty and bubble over with exciting story possibilities. Imagine Tracy Flick (Reece Witherspoon) in 1999’s film Election magnified by ten. Peyton is slick and like Kennedy, Bush and Trump before him has been born rich. He seems to inspire a phenomenal amount of loyalty in both his girlfriend Alice (Julia Schlaepfer) and his campaign team (played by Laura Dreyfuss and Theo Germaine). But he also seems erratic and clearly has skeletons in his cupboard. What is his exact relationship with his handsome rival, River (David Corenswet)? Are they gay or bisexual?  In fact, this probably isn’t a problem: everyone seems to be bisexual here. The whole thing is a bit like a 1980s Bret Easton Ellis novel at times.

There are other intriguing elements notably potential running mate, Infinity Jackson (Zoey Deutch: daughter of Back to the Future’s Lea Thompson), an apparently sweet-natured character dominated by her horrendous, gold-digging grandmother (an excellent Jessica Lange). Peyton himself is dominated by his own bohemian Lady MacBeth-like mother (Gwyneth Paltrow, another Oscar winner, like Lange and also great here). River’s girlfriend, Astrid Sloan (Lucy Boynton) also seems like a potentially interesting character, at least at first. The fine actor Bob Balaban also gets a high billing here as Peyton’s step-dad, but is barely in it.

Sadly, like a morally bankrupt politician, the series does not live up to its early promise. Perhaps that’s the problem with planning several seasons in advance like this: the creators seem to have lost interest in this story and started setting up the next series a few episodes before the end. The election story-line fizzles out. The mid-season episode, ‘The Voter’ depicts an apathetic student totally ignoring the election day events occurring around him. This is an interesting idea which might have provided a fresh new perspective on events: not everyone at Peyton’s school (or in society generally) is obsessed with politics, after all. But the voter (played by Russell Posner) is clearly anything but typical. He is far more drug-obsessed, girl-obsessed (a point over emphasised with far too many shots of him checking girls out) and violent than anyone around him. The episode is a complete dud.

Despite these flaws and too many irrelevant musical interludes from the talented Platt, however, The Politician is still well-acted and compelling enough to make it worth viewing. But as Peyton himself is once cruelly described, this is more Gerald Ford than Barack Obama.

The Politician is on Netflix now.