Ellen Burstyn in “Political Animals” (2012)

27 July 2012

The pilot of Political Animals is surprisingly great. This new USA Channel show starring Sigourney Weaver is a roman à clef — Weaver plays a thinly disguised Hillary Clinton, except she divorces her husband after losing in the primaries to be the presidential candidate, and Ellen Burstyn plays her mother, a former showgirl. The underlying theme, which most fundamentally concerns uncovering the many motivations of a woman stereotyped by the press as a bitch (why does she stay with her philandering husband through so many affairs? does such a political wife “sell out” feminism when she does so? why does she adopt that bitchy persona, and what does it allow her to achieve? what do younger women fail to understand about their older, powerful women leaders?), is kind of amazing.

Problem: the second episode is ridiculous. Don’t even get me started on the “gay son as emotional trainwreck” theme. Or the “Asian-American daughter-in-law as forthcoming emotional trainwreck” foreshadowing.

But let’s not lose the point. The point is, how can I look like Ellen Burstyn when I’m 79? Has she made some kind of soul-selling arrangement with the devil to look this great?


That hair, which is white around the edges and still strawberry on top & in the back. Those cheekbones, which could still cut glass. Honestly, Ellen! You are ruining it for the rest of us!

Frankly, I’m going to keep watching this show — not least for a good cast and the dynamics between the reporter (Carla Gugino) and Sigourney Weaver’s political-animal Secretary of State — even though the second episode was such a dropoff in smarts from the pilot. I mean, how great to see a show about politics in which most of the important players are women?

So what if it’s a little West Wing in its fantasies that right triumphs over might? I’ll watch any show in which the average age of the relevant lead actors hovers around 60 years old. But secretly, I’ll be watching for Ellen Burstyn’s potty mouth, that face of hers, and — most of all — that extraordinary hair. Damn.



8 Responses to “Ellen Burstyn in “Political Animals” (2012)”

  1. Didion,

    I can’t wait to see this. I love our Ellen Burstyn and Sigourney Weaver. Not a surprise that Weaver was an English major at Yale.

    • Didion Says:

      I know, right? Having Burstyn and Weaver in the same show is like a big wet dream for me.

      Hey, I almost forgot to tell you I saw The Painted Lady just recently! I don’t think I have time to write about it, but what a pleasure — any makeover story /mystery starring Helen Mirren would be great, but one with fine art and family mysteries at the center… oh my. It was so good. Thanks so much for that recommendation!

  2. Dark Iris Says:

    I’m really excited to watch the show as well, Didion! Now I’m not approaching it with quite so much trepidation. After VEEP, I worried that any contemporary representation of a woman politician would portray her as craven, bumbling, or whiny. Also hoping that the relationship between Weaver’s and Gugino’s characters remains complex rather than woman vs. woman catfighting for drama’s sake.

    Wonder what you think of The Newsroom, or if you’ve even bothered with it. Many of my friends were “blah, blah, blah, so smart, blah, blah,” and I just found the show more and more unbearable. The way that the women characters are portrayed makes me want to rant, but I don’t really have anything good to say about Aaron Sorkin. Or Charlie Sheen. Stop giving these guys shows!!

    • Yes, I’m not a fan of Sorkin or Sheen. I have not seen Newsroom yet, but really want to hear what you and Didion have to say about it.

    • Didion Says:

      Well (confession): I don’t have HBO, and I’ve grown weary trying to find “creative” ways of watching its shows. So I’m behind on everything that’s really getting a lot of attention on HBO & Showtime. I really want to see Veep — but am going to have to find a good friend with HBO.

      Honestly, that first episode of Political Animals is surprisingly impressive. It says something very nice about the complexity of marriages and how impossible it is to judge them from the outside. But even more the femme a femme battles that take place at high levels (which are likewise far more interesting than are typically portrayed). We’ll see how it stacks up over the long haul.

  3. Hattie Says:

    Burstyn looks great, but frankly it is impossible to look like that at age 79 without “work,” and flattering makeup and lighting.
    I’m getting way behind on my viewing, too.

    • Didion Says:

      You know, I just read a great chapter by Caitlin Moran about aging — and she says exactly this: that women who have subtle and extremely attractive work done are in exactly the same boat as those who have the horrible, unsubtle work done, and that all of it fosters a culture of women going insane about their looks over the course of their lives, when instead for all kinds of reasons we should abhor the cosmetic industrial complex and learn to live in our own skin.

      So you’re too right, Hattie. Beware women who look too good for their age.

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