Political Animals: The Confusing Adventures of Un-Hillary Non-Clinton

This fictional political miniseries perhaps draws a little too much from the real world.

The opening scenes of Political Animals are downright distracting. The politically adept wife of a popular two-term horndog of a president runs for the office herself, only to lose in the primaries to a rival and get offered the position of secretary of state.

But this is not the story of Bill and Hillary Clinton, and USA Network’s six-part miniseries Political Animals is not another Game Change. Instead, the fictional drama is about a political family that just happens to look a lot like the Clintons but is different enough to feel as though the viewer might be perhaps watching an alternate reality sci-fi show with political and familial intrigue.

Sigourney Weaver (in her first television role as a regular) plays a not-quite-Hillary by the name of Elaine Barrish Hammond. In the remarkably familiar first act of the premiere episode, she relives about 75 percent of Hillary Clinton’s experience in the 2008 primary. Despite the support of her blowhard Southern-fried husband, two-term President Bud Hammond (Ciarán Hinds, approaching Bill Clinton from somewhere south of Foghorn Leghorn), she loses to charismatic primary challenger Paul Garcetti (played by the always charismatic Adrian Pasdar), who then goes on to win the White House with the Hammonds’ grudging, clenched-teeth support.

There the similarities – as striking as they are – end. Poor Chelsea is nowhere to be seen. The Hammonds have twin adult sons. Somewhat bland do-gooder son Douglas Hammond (James Wolk) serves as Elaine’s chief of staff. Narrative law then requires the other twin to be a total screw-up. T.J. Hammond (Sebastian Stan, continuing to carve out an acting niche as the high-society wild child) is a drug-addicted basket case -- and also the first openly gay son of a president.  The family is rounded out by Elaine’s mother, Margaret (Ellen Burstyn), who wanders through the first episode full of easy quips like the fifth Golden Girl.

Also a major difference: After losing the presidency, Elaine then dumps and divorces boorish Bud, leaving him to pursue younger women to his heart’s content.

Stirring up the actual plot is D.C. print journalist Susan Berg (Carla Gugino, drinking from the Lois Lane well). Susan earned a Pulitzer for exposing Bud’s indiscretions while in office, earning the Hammond family’s ire. As the family prepares to celebrate Doug’s engagement, Susan uses a family secret to muscle her way back into access for a week to pursue a story.

Greg Berlanti (Brothers and Sisters) is the creator of the miniseries and it bears his stamp as much as The Newsroom bears Aaron Sorkin’s. It’s more soapy than political, and by the end of the first episode it’s apparent there are no clear-cut “villains.” Elaine and Susan are set up as adversaries but not necessarily enemies. Brothers and Sisters viewers may see familiarity in the relationship between Sally Field’s and Patricia Wettig’s characters. But both Weaver and Gugino play their strong women with cool resolve in a crisis. The conflicts are blessedly free of some of the shrillness that marked the arguments of the more excitable ladies in Brothers and Sisters. The tone feels closer to The Good Wife, blending together the twin stories of powerful women as both workplace rulers and family protectors without tripping up on the “Can women have it all?” question. They just deal with it. There is a bit too much lampshading of the ownership of the “bitch” insult among the women. It becomes self-congratulatory pretend feminism and isn’t necessary. Showing unrepentantly powerful women is good. The next step is to stop talking about how unrepentantly powerful the women are. Let it stand on its own. There is also a bit of tiresome workplace cattiness at Susan’s newspaper (and typical new media ignorance).

As for the men, Wolk doesn’t have much to do in the first episode but establish Douglas as a competitive good guy idealist oblivious to his nonpolitical fiancée (played by Brittany Ishibashi) feeling stress over joining the powerful bickering family. As T.J., Stan stalks the house in palpable cocaine-fueled frustration, trying to gain his parents’ trust (and financial support).

The weak spot in the family dynamic -- and really the whole premiere -- is the cartoonish Bud Hammond. He’s not an interpretation of Bill Clinton but a parody. Hinds’ performance lacks the underlying mental sharpness that balanced Bill Clinton’s bombast. Part of the problem is certainly the writing. The show plays up the Hammond family’s dislike of Garcetti, but apparently lacked the courage to make the president black to avoid having to address any sort of race-related tension. So instead Bud frequently spits out a tirade of anti-Italian stereotypes and slang when talking about Garcetti behind the scenes, sounding absurdly old-fashioned. At one point he actually calls Garcetti a “dago.”  By the time the show tries to give Bud actual layers, it’s too late. It’s hard to believe that he was as popular as the show wants us to believe. It’s hard to believe younger women are drawn to him. It’s hard to believe he ever commanded much respect. As he gets involved in an international crisis Elaine is managing, perhaps they’ll show this other side of the man, but the first episode fails in this regard.

The plot for the first episode is also fairly predictable. It is easy to guess the family’s secret that Susan is using to get access. It’s also easy to predict how and when the secret will be revealed. One secret introduced to the viewer partway through the episode is likely to make eyes roll. Ultimately Political Animals is not much different from the well-worn family drama. It just happens that the workplace component of the show involves political campaigns and international crises instead of office politics.

Political Animals premieres on USA Sunday, June 15 at 10 p.m. (9 p.m. central).

Scott Shackford is an associate editor of 24/7 News at Reason.com.

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  • Jerry on the road||

    It's a good thing the 2nd season of Boss will start next month.

  • DJF||

    It's a good thing that you can get real political drama by buying Foghorn Leghorn cartoons from Amazon.com

  • Old Mexican||

    Or from this cartoon

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    I disliked his better the first time I saw it when it was called Commander in Chief.

  • ||

    Why are you so negative?

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Why are you so serious?

  • Suki||

    Self destructing plots save a nuke or two.

  • DJF||

    How about a different script for the characters.

    Sigourney Weaver plays the Secretary of State who wants to divorce her husband the former President after he returns from a world wide speaking tour. Just as she confronts him at home he suddenly starts choking and gasping, he falls onto the dinning room table and suddenly his chest rips open and a small alien pops out which then escapes

    The rest of the series is the fight the Secretary of State has in getting people to believe her and then leading the fight to find out where her husband was infected and to destroy the danger even if it means nuking the target area from space to make sure.

  • Cytotoxic||

    Makes more sense than Prometheus. Then again that's not saying much.

  • Lucretio||

    Did IQs just drop sharply while I was away?

  • ||

    What? That movie was the most over-hyped piece of garbage this year.

  • Libertymike||

    Amongst many over-hyped pieces of garbage this year.

  • wT||

    Chained to a rock to have his liver pecked out each day, doesn't make sense.

  • alittlesense||

    Does the small alien do a vaudeville routine of "Hello My Baby"?

  • Mint Berry Crunch||

    What will I watch at 10 PM tonight: Political Animals, or Breaking Bad?

    Hmmmmmmmmmmmm. Such a tough choice. I'll probably end up flipping a coin.

  • oldtimer||

    If Lifetime could rerun its first season of The Client List in that slot, where the series originally ran, it would be a relief.
    Their show portrays a more honorable profession, albeit unrealisticly.

  • Tulpa the White||

    Obama: DC 'feels as broken as it did 4 years ago'

    He says he's most frustrated by the inability "to change the atmosphere" in the nation's capital "to reflect the decency and common sense of ordinary people" who want their leaders to solve problems.

    "There's enough blame to go around for that," he told CBS' "Sunday Morning."

    Reflecting on more than 3 ½ years in office, Obama said, "I think there's no doubt that I underestimated the degree to which in this town politics trump problem solving."
  • Virginian||

    Of all the weaselly, worthless, fuckheaded bitch things he (and a lot of other politicians really) say, this pisses me off the most.

    When (usually) the Left pretends that their latest massive power grab is just a "simple pragmatic moderate solution" to a problem the last "simple pragmatic moderate solution" created or exacerbated, it makes me want to go chop like 10 cords of wood. What sickens me the most about the ideological Left is how they pretend that they don't have an ideology, that this is just the centrist moderate way of thinking. Dishonest cunts.

  • Cytotoxic||

    That is a key to their success.

  • Keith3D||

    It's the same reason liberals will rarely admit what they are (itself part of why the country appears to have to many independents despite the fact that liberals rule half the govt). They think their views are self-evident and the only possible conclusion, sans racism or some character flaw.

    Most everyone starts off as an ideological liberal fool, then most of us grow up and see the world differently. The ones who don't grow up are the liberals, never having seen how one can have differing views on a subject.

  • wareagle||

    once again, the problem is something other than Obama. He certainly had nothing to do with promoting further polarization, he has never allowed politics to get in the way, etc etc etc.

    Here's a prediction - in the next few weeks, the drought will follow the tsunami in Japan, Europe's problems, and all of the other horribles that have prevented The Obama from the god of all that is good and merciful that we the stupid knew he could be.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    It's the stupid drought that's keeping the unemployment rate so high. Stupid drought.

    *looks forlorn and kicks parched dirt*

  • Virginian||

    Jenny? Things got a little out of hand. It's just this war and that lying son of a bitch Johnson and...I would never hurt you. You know that.

  • Tulpa the White||

    Back when I had a "real" job as a teenager, I would try to cop excuses like this too. My boss would retort with something to the effect of, "Tulpa, if it's never possible for you to do the job properly, maybe you need to find another job." And then I would stop lolligagging out of fear of being fired.

    I wonder if any of BO's advisors will tell him that.

  • ||

    I underestimated the degree to which in this town politics trump problem solving

    Underestimated the depth of the economic crisis.

    Underestimated the need of Gitmo.

    Underestimated the need for secrecy

    Underestimated the need to keep troops in Iraq.

    Underestimated the need to shut down medical marihuana.

    Underestimated the need to keep fighting in Afghanistan.

  • wareagle||

    IOW: all those folks who said I was not prepared for this job were right.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    That's a lot of words used to say, "I didn't do what I said I was going to do."

  • Suki||

    For a student of Stalin, Mao, and Fidel he sure did miss a lot when it comes to technique.

  • Tulpa the White||

    My follow up question would be, "So if there was no way for you to be an effective president with your party in control of both houses of Congress for two years, what do you see changing after the next election to make it possible for you to be an effective president?"

    But that's why I'll never be allowed to interview him.

  • Rich||

    "As I told Dmitry, after my relection I'll have more flexibility."

  • ||

    The Brothers and Sisters connection is all you need to know. Holy Christ that show is insufferable. It has a "change the channel NOW" factor approaching that of The View.

  • Killazontherun||

    The wife use to watch it. I would do everything in my power to have music going here in the den, anything, so I could not hear the damn show. Even still, I know this much, half of the straight guys in the current show will turn out to be out of the closest by the time it ends its run.

  • A Serious Man||

  • ||

    Well doesn't this just hit the trifecta of odious, nonsensical AND "ROOOOAAADDZZ!!1!"? "...so that all the companies could make money off the Internet" sounds like the way a not-especially-bright 6 year old child would phrase their understanding of e-commerce.

  • Killazontherun||

    As I pointed out in an earlier thread today, commercial development of the internet was prohibited for a generation before those restrictions were finally lifted altogether during the mid years of the Clinton Administration. Ironically, as a Senator, Gore fought tooth and nail to keep service providers highly centralized.

    First the BBCs, then service providers like Sierra On-line were allowed to develop their internally linked offerings, and only later was commercial advertizement allowed. They stifled the internet and the little claim they have for it involved protocols that any decent programmer could have rigged up. John Carmack's packet system for Quake Arena is light years more sophisticated than the legacy protocols for which the government handicapped us.

    They did the same with cable television for thirty years and it was developed earlier than broadcast network television. Why? To restrict whom the masses got information from. Progressives understood this problem for them early on, and have had their tentacles in communication ever since.

  • Killazontherun||

    BTW, I've met JC at several QuakeCons and other industry conventions over the years, a total Randian.

  • 0x90||

    So Learjet Lizzie is now a presidential speechwriter?

    "If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen."

    Okay, so if I shut down my business, did I do that? Or if I never built it (sorry, if somebody never built it), then who did (or didn't do) that? Dude thinks he's getting all existential or something.

    But it's just the same tripe that plays everywhere: you don't have kids and don't like paying thousands to school your neighbor's. The argument: "well, somebody paid for you to go to school, didn't they?" Yeah, Einstein, my parents did. Double-paid, actually, since the public school is such a crap factory. They had to do it because, like you, and unlike me, they chose to have kids; it's not a difficult concept.

    Whatever. If ROMNIAC's not an idiot, he'll make sure the idiot owns this one.

  • General Butt Naked||

    So Learjet Lizzie is now a presidential speechwriter?

    Sounds an awful lot like Tony as well; with emphasis on the awful.

  • Jerry on the road||

    That's quite a roundabout way of saying people need capital in order to make stuff. But then again, this is a president who thinks capital formation is the antichrist.

  • Keith3D||

    I think it's a roundabout way of saying you are the property of the government, worded to sound like it fits a capitalist system when it doesn't. Because the people who created this unbelievable american system already made themselves wealth in doing so.

  • Cytotoxic||

    We have to get rid of this asshole.

  • ||

    One wonders how civilization existed before he came into office.

  • Paul.||

    It didn't. And it still doesn't, despite his best efforts.

  • ||

    The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

    The lithium-ion battery was invented using research money from Exxon.

    Does this mean Exxon can now claim they invented the cell phone?

    Millions of inventions were needed to create the internet...Government invests a few bucks in connecting some wire between a couple colleges and now it is "GOVERNMENT INVENTS INTERNET!!!!"

  • Suki||

    Al Gore was the image of government back then.

  • Keith3D||

    It's fine to note a significant accomplishment by the govt, as long as you note the cost as well. Even more specifically, the military created the internet. The military costs a trillion bucks a year.
    The president needs to compare the military's output to the wealth that society would have created itself, sans all that taxation.

    One way we might get an idea is to look at countries with tons of govt/military spending on technology, but with much more limited market freedom. Those are called communist countries and would appear to suck ass.

  • ||

    Even more specifically, the military created the internet.

    There were computer networks before ARPANET and there were communications networks which used protocols (think Morse code) before there were computers let alone before the cold war and the RAND corporation.

    The government and military came up with one small part of the internet. It was not non-trivial I will admit but it was also pretty intuitive and likely to come along anyway.
    From the intuitive perspective Exxon has a better claim on cell phones then the government does on the internet. Lithium-ion batteries are anything but intuitive.

  • ||

    It should also be pointed out that the government enforced telephone monopoly probably slowed down the emergence of computer networks, let alone the network of networks.

  • Keith3D||

    So you're arguing that the government did not get there on its own, but it had help along the way? Sounds Obamaesque. You're right of course.

    But I think the more notable point is how, among all the private-sector and govt accomplishments, there's a very clear difference. The private-sector accomplishes things in transactions that enrich both sides all along the way, whereas the govt simply takes. Then calls anything it eventually does give back some kind of new hostage we must pay for again.

  • ||

    So you're arguing that the government did not get there on its own, but it had help along the way?

    No i am arguing that a shit load of people made the car as it is today and some people want to claim government invented the car because it invented the key locked ignition switch, and making such a claim is complete bullshit.

  • Ted S.||

    Does this mean Exxon can now claim they invented the cell phone?

    No; that would be Hedy Lamarr. And when she and her partner presented their idea to government, they didn't know what to do with it.

  • General Butt Naked||

    "Look, if you're a failure, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so dumb. There are a lot of dumbass people out there. It must be because I'm lazier than everybody else. Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of lazy-ass motherfuckers out there. (Applause.) If you were a failure, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a public school teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American government that punishes success and rewards failure. Somebody stole a productive citizen's money and gave it away failing banks and political cronies. If you’ve got a business — I've got no idea what it's like to be you. Somebody else might, but not me. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own, it's a series of tubes. Government will eventually choke the entrepreneurial and creative life out of the internet. The point is, is that when we fail, we fail because of our individual initiative, and because we do things together. There are some things, just like giving speeches, we don’t do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had write their own speeches. That would be a hard way to become president.

  • ||

    Excellent.

  • Fatty Bolger||

    Nice.

  • Brutus||

    Awesome.

  • Anacreon||

    hear hear

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Shorter version: Everybody belongs to everybody else.

    Aldous Huxley would be so proud. Or sick enough to puke, I couldn't say which.

  • nicole||

    I read this last night. What struck me about it was not just how horrible it actually is, but also how bad it sounds. I mean, what speechwriter writes "If you've got a business--you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen." What speechwriter doesn't realize what a terrible soundbite that is and that his boss is going to get jumped all over for it within thirty seconds?

    (Also, when I read the part about the fire service, I was like "OMG he is going full-on ROADZ!!!" Then I realized he gave the speech at a fire station, so I guess that's the reason for the example. But still!)

  • General Butt Naked||

    But he did say roads. Or "ROAAADDSZZ!onety!

    ...and bridges

  • Keith3D||

    Even if Obama is singing the praises of American socialism here, it was the top 10% that paid for all that. Kind of a backwards to suggest that this implies we should raise taxes only on the people already paying most of the taxes to give to those that already don't pay taxes.

  • SIV||

    Isn't this just a paraphrase of the Elizabeth Warren speech where she said the factory owner, his customers, suppliers and employees put in nothing to use all the great government and infrastructure provided by the lazy deadbeats who did?

  • SIV||

  • Tulpa the White||

    LOL. What is it about BO that he can't stop plagiarizing Massachusetts Dem politician speeches?

  • VG Zaytsev||

    Will we see his dumbo ears popping out of a tank soon?

  • Killazontherun||

    The tick thinks it is the host.

    The business owning and entrepreneural dogs are hanging on to it by their teeth, sucking it dry, according to its fevered imagination.

  • General Butt Naked||

    The tick thinks it is the host.

    I like this. Apt.

  • Brutus||

    I like PJ O'Rourke's characterization, too: The cheerleaders getting themselves confused with the guy carrying the ball.

  • Brutus||

    Stomach-turning. What a supreme douchebag.

  • Tulpa the White||

    Other than government workers and commemorative plate manufacturers, I doubt there's anyone who's succeeded because of help from Obama.

  • Brutus||

    The UAW

  • VG Zaytsev||

    But don't dare call him a socialist.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    I'm finally able to hear Obama's music that Fineman was talking about.

  • General Butt Naked||

    Not even looking I am going to guess 4 "nuke the site from orbit" references so far.

  • General Butt Naked||

    Not even looking I am going to guess 4 "nuke the site from orbit" references so far.

  • General Butt Naked||

    Only one, whodda thunk it?

    Looks like mary is gonna have to edit her video.

  • ||

    Cuz of you there are now three.

    You should be firebombed from 5000 ft.

  • Killazontherun||

    Go in with a Bowie knife in both hands, it is truly the only way to be sure.

  • Curtis Edward Clark||

    Gee, and it was only 2 days ago when I myself wrote http://teapartyoriginalism.blo.....imals.html that the similarity was so close the liberals wouldn't bother to watch (and of course the conservatives wouldn't be caught dead watching the whole thing!)

  • ||

    Anyone else notice that Olivia Munn playing Sloan Sabbith on Newsroom is
    Veronique de Rugy?

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Much less entertaining:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/.....oir=Yahoo

    I'd go just to heckle and get thrown out.

  • ||

    My contribution: Don't do it guys! Michael Moore is hungy. Everyone knows that when Michael Moore is hungry, he must feed!

  • Skip||

    I'd only go if they were showing Red Dawn.

  • ||

    Michael Moore doesn't want to watch movies, Michael Moore wants to feed!

  • ||

    Bud frequently spits out a tirade of anti-Italian stereotypes and slang when talking about Garcetti behind the scenes, sounding absurdly old-fashioned. At one point he actually calls Garcetti a “dago.”

    Yeah, what a totally unrealistic caricature of a president who said of his wife's black opponent for office "A few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee".

  • Scott S.||

    Yeah, my point though is that they chose to make the president Italian for whatever reason, and as a result they traded real racial comments with bizarre old fashioned Eye-talian stuff like he's Grandpa Simpson.

  • Skip||

    Bill would have made a great Italian stereotype. Constant eating and blameless adultery.

  • Ted S.||

    I thought the appropriate term was "wop".

  • ||

    a thinly veiled production about hilary? good thing citizen's united passed or they'd be using campaign finance law to criminalize the airing or broadcast of this within a month of the election

  • Brutus||

    Stop defending KKKorporashuns!!

  • ||

    jezebel et al are going NUTS over tosh's response to some heckler who interrupted him to tell him that rape jokes are NEVER funny

    (unless you are sarah silverman or bernhardt in which case you get a pass)

    http://jezebel.com/5925186/how-to-make-a-rape-joke

    there have been several articles.

    this is the latest.

    protip: don't heckle a comedian, especially one who routinely makes rape jokes (did she do NO due diligence before attending) and then get all pissed off when he rips you a new one

    joe rogan is great at dealing with hecklers, and tosh could learn from him as his response was a bit inelegant

  • A Serious Man||

  • nicole||

    I loved her version of that joke.

    And that Jezebel post made me sad when I read it the other day.

  • Brutus||

    Q: How many feminists does it take to screw in a light bulb?

    A: THAT'S NOT FUNNY!!!

    Here endeth today's lesson from the Sisters of Perpetual Outrage.

  • triclops||

    that is a good one!

  • Skip||

    They only find Sarah Palin/Michelle Malkin rape jokes funny.

  • JeremyR||

    Or any other conservative woman.

  • SIV||

  • Cytotoxic||

    Actual ending to the story:The consulate was closed in 1993 due to budget cuts but has been reopened to assist the Egyptian economy in a key port city.

    It's perfect.

  • JeremyR||

    To be fair, I think that's how she's greeted in parts of the US, too.

  • ||

    Actual ending to the story:The http://www.lunettesporto.com/l.....-3_22.html consulate was closed in 1993 due to budget cuts but has been reopened to assist the Eg

  • jason||

    These interviews are going in the right direction and showing the picture of elections.

  • John C. Randolph||

    You know what would really make that show would be if Sigourney Weaver is strapped into a power loader, busts down the door to the oval office to find her husband doing the fat chick, and she yells "leave him alone, you bitch", and then throws the fat chick out the airlock.

    Have your people call my people, we'll have lunch.

    -jcr

  • Nike air max womens||

    In the remarkably familiar first act of the premiere episode, she relives about 75 percent of Hillary Clinton’s experience in the 2008 primary. Despite the support of her blowhard Southern-fried husband, two-term President Bud Hammond (Ciarán Hinds, approaching Bill Clinton from somewhere south of Foghorn Leghorn), she loses to charismatic primary challenger Paul Garcetti (played by the always charismatic Adrian Pasdar), who then goes on to win the White House with the Hammonds’ grudging, clenched-teeth support.

  • LarryA||

    Predictions:
    1. There are two Hollywood paradigms for shows, Friends and Dallas. In Friends everyone has each other's back. In Dallas everyone stabs each other in the back. Political Animals will be the latter.
    2. The show's politics will range from Flaming Liberals (the progressive policies that would make the U.S. a utopia) to Moderate Liberals (the progressive policies that would make the U.S. european). Opposing them will be the Bitter Clinger Social Neanderthal Conservatives who prevent progress.

    Narrative law then requires the other twin to be a total screw-up. T.J. Hammond (Sebastian Stan, continuing to carve out an acting niche as the high-society wild child) is a drug-addicted basket case -- and also the first openly gay son of a president who will be labeled a "libertarian."

  • triclops||

    He cannot be a libertarian. Libertarians don't really exist. People who claim to be them are all actually just racists who, through false consciousness, want to help the rich by hurting the poor.

  • air max chaussures||

    Despite the support of her blowhard Southern-fried husband, two-term President Bud Hammond (Ciarán Hinds, approaching Bill Clinton from somewhere south of Foghorn Leghorn), she loses to charismatic primary challenger Paul Garcetti (played by the always charismatic Adrian Pasdar), who then goes on to win the White House with the Hammonds’ grudging,

  • tee shirt pas cher||

    Stirring up the actual plot is D.C. print journalist Susan Berg (Carla Gugino, drinking from the Lois Lane well). Susan earned a Pulitzer for exposing Bud’s indiscretions while in office, earning the Hammond family’s ire. As the family prepares to celebrate Doug’s engagement, Susan uses a family secret to muscle her way back into access for a week to pursue a story.

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