USA's limited series event focuses on a Hilary Clinton-esque politician who attempts to handle both the costs and benefits of her career, all the while hoping she can keep certain dark family secrets from coming to light.
Sigourney Weaver stars as Elaine Barrish Hammond, a former First Lady who loses her bid for the presidency and goes to work for the man who is ultimately elected in her place. Weaver delivers a brilliant performance as a smart, flawed woman who is never shown to be any less ambitious or confident than her male counter-parts.
Ciaran Hinds plays Elaine's ex, Bud Hammond, a womanizing former President attempting to keep his name in the public's mind as he deals with his declining post-divorce popularity.
James Wolk and Sebastian Stan give strong supporting performances as the Hammonds' two sons, the first continuing the family legacy by working alongside his mother while the latter struggles to find his purpose after being known as the first openly gay child in the White House.
Yet the breakout star, at least of the early episodes, is Carla Gugino. Gugino plays Susan Berg, a cut-throat journalist trying to elevate her career by shadowing Elaine and capitalizing on her popularity. Ellen Burstyn and Adrian Pasdar round out this excellent ensemble cast.
What works for Political Animals is that it fits with USA's trend of entertaining, character-driven shows with a specific occupational focus. Though the series is set in the political world, the majority of the focus is on the Hammond family and the personal and professional challenges they face as well-known public figures.
Another highlight of the series is the dynamic between Weaver's Elaine and Gugino's Berg. The two go head-to-head with a kind of brutal honesty that allows each to acknowledge and almost respect how seemingly cold and power-hungry the other can be. It also does not hurt that neither character is dumbed down by their romantic struggles or willing to sit out of the high-stakes power plays required in their line of work simply because they are women.
While many critical reviews for the series have been positive, some viewers may have ignored the show due to a disinterest in politics while others may have been confused as to whether Political Animals is USA's newest show or just a well-cast mini-series.
The shorter season (there are six episodes total) uses the mini-series format as a potential launch-pad for a new show (the network took the same chance several years ago with the science fiction drama The 4400.) As far as the politics go, as was mentioned above, the show is much more of a family drama than an exploration of the political arena and should be enjoyed by both the politically savvy and those interested in USA's typical summertime fare.
USA's Political Animals airs Sunday nights at 10/9c.