Ben Platt has had quite the year. Back in 2012, he made his Broadway debut in “The Book of Mormon,” and has been on a steady rise ever since. Between his supporting role in the “Pitch Perfect” film franchise as the awkward Benji Applebaum and his audience-flooring performance as Evan Hansen in “Dear Evan Hansen” on Broadway from 2016-2017, he has made quite the name for himself.
That’s how I initially discovered Platt. I had seen the “Pitch Perfect” movies but unfortunately did not take significant note of him. It wasn’t until the cast-recording of “Dear of Hansen” came out that I fell in love with his acting talent and uniquely expressive and emotional voice. Platt can belt notes that most couldn’t dream of hitting and make it seem easy. The emotion he conveys through his performance as Evan Hansen, especially when singing, is jaw-dropping and heart-wrenching.
Cut to 2019, the year that should go down in history as “The Year of Ben Platt,” and Platt releases his first solo album of original music entitled “Sing to Me Instead.” The project contains excellent pop music that would have been destroying the charts were hip-hop not the dominant genre. It’s easily one of my favorite albums of the year. Additionally, it was announced that Platt would star alongside Beanie Feldstein in Richard Linklater’s “Merrily We Roll Along,” which is set to film over the next 20 years.
To top it all off, Platt stars in a new Netflix show from Ryan Murphy (“Pose,” “American Horror Story,”) entitled “The Politician,” the first of Murphy’s content deal with the streaming service. The show centers on Payton Hobart, an unhealthily ambitious, exorbitantly wealthy high school senior whose mission in life is to become the President of the United States. First, however, he has to become the president of his preppy, exclusive high school.
The show follows his campaign alongside his friends McAfee Westbrook (Laura Dreyfuss) and James Sullivan (Theo Germaine) and his loyal high school sweetheart, Alice Charles (Julia Schlaepfer). His primary competition is his friend and secret love, River Barkley (David Corenswet), and then later, his rival Astrid Sloan (Lucy Boynton). Gwyneth Paltrow is another big name in the cast, playing Payton’s loving mother. Outside of the political battle, there is a whole plot on the side about Infinity Jackson (Zoey Deutch), Payton’s classmate who has been battling cancer for most of her life, and her grandmother, Dusty Jackson (Jessica Lange), who may be somewhat responsible.
There’s a lot going on in this show.
That’s unsurprising if you’re an avid viewer of Murphy’s other projects or Netflix original “dramas” in general. I use quotes because I’m not quite sure if this is a comedy or drama, but it certainly borrows from both genres and rides the line right down the middle. One moment I’m laughing as some satirical argument about corruption in politics and its scary allegories to the real deal, and the next I’m sobbing uncontrollably as Ben Platt ugly cries on screen. I really cared about these characters, and though I didn’t spend much time with them, I quickly grew to love them — flaws and all.
This is a credit to both the writing and performances. There is an element to some of Murphy’s work that can sometimes make it feel disconnected. His shows, especially the more comedic ones, have a sleek aesthetic, bright color palette, rapid-fire dialogue and stiffness that can sometimes make them feel artificial or inauthentic, and while these factors are present here, they have a different effect. They accentuate the satirical nature of the show, but it’s still endearing because the characters aren’t entirely caricatures. They have heart and though often cynical, they all have moments of sincerity that make you care about them and their success.
Visually, the show is gorgeous. The sets are beautiful and colorful. There’s a polish, almost a shine, to the settings that pervades most scenes but is purposefully, noticeably absent in others. The cinematography has moments of beauty and cleverness that even myself, as a novice, could catch. There are many frames within frames and shot compositions that made the show visually pleasing. The characters’ wardrobes, though somewhat a commentary on their ridiculous wealth, are fun and interesting. It’s just a joy to look at, and the beauty of the visuals cushion some of the show’s more heart-wrenching moments.
The story is complicated and fast-paced, as there’s a lot to jam into eight episodes, though the show has already been renewed for a second season, but the story it tells is relevant on a personal and political scale. Platt and Corenswet stand out with their amazing performances, but there isn’t a weak performance in the whole show. It’s an entertaining ride from start to finish, and I’m already looking forward to revisiting it.