Politics can be two parts messy, one part petty, and seven parts scheming cleverness — and that’s even before TV has its way with it. Ultimately though, portrayal of the darker side of politics does seem to crop up in a lot of highly popular television series, proving that there’s an audience for the more cut throat chess games of politics. Of course, political dramas can also be driven by all the passions and policy idealism that we see in real life as well, but it doesn’t change the fact that we clearly enjoy what feels like a forbidden glimpse under the surface of political machinery into its seedier workings. Let’s take a look at a few shows that scream corruption to viewers collective pleasure.
1. House of Cards
Netflix’s (NASDAQ:NFLX) highly popular political drama, House of Cards, puts the backstabbing, manipulative, and cleverly self-serving P in political. Not to mention the series has three Emmy awards under its belt for casting, directing, and cinematography. The show follows Francis and Claire, a political partnership that’s enough to make you shiver at times.
Kevin Spacey plays Francis, the ruthless politician, while his wife Clair is played by Robin Wright. Both have just the right degrees of suave elegance and creepiness to pull it off, and when they come back for the second season in 2014, it seems likely they’ll be up for the task of dealing with old crimes being unearthed by persistently nose reporter — played by Kate Mara.
2. West Wing
Truthfully, the West Wing is very much an idealized view of politics. Most of the secrets seem to be about well meant acts, even if the journalists turn them into bad PR, and the politicians — at least the Democrats — are well meaning, if ambitious, government employees.
That said, part of what’s exciting is the secrets, the maneuverings, the sneaky ways they go about getting their goals brought about. It might not have quite the corruption of House of Cards, but it certainly manages to reign viewers in with shootings and sex, like any good political drama.
Asides from being an all around expertly crafted and produced series, The Wire was addicting in the way it examined crime on all levels — from the foot soldiers of the drug world to the gang leaders, to good ol’ Bubbles the informant, and on up to the city government of Baltimore and the politics of the police force.
The juxtaposition of the streets and daily lives affected by crime compared to the careers being made and broken by manipulatable statistics from precincts results in a show that is both eye opening, complex, and disturbing. Like any show, it has it’s bright spots, but it manages to paint everyone in shades of grey, “good guys” and “bad guys” alike.
4. Parks and Recreation
I know I know, before you say it, Leslie Knope is a committed and hyper-loyal civil servant, sometimes to the point of ridiculous numbers of binders and cross stitched gifts. She’s not the ideal candidate for a politically corrupt official. But what would the Parks and Recreation series be without Councilman Jeremy Jamm and Councilman Bill Dexhart?
Between Jamm’s easily bought vote and Dexhart’s many, many, many sex scandals, the two are a vitally hilarious contribution to the show, as dear to viewers as Perd Hapley and Joan Callamezzo. Who doesn’t love Jamm’s insistence on Grease karaoke and snow cones before siding with Leslie on certain issues, or doling out government jobs based on customers who spend money at his dental office.
Then, of course, there’s Dexhart — “and to my wife, I apologize. All I can say is, I wasn’t just having sex. I was making love to a beautiful woman. And her boyfriend. And a third person whose name I never learned. Furthermore, it was wrong of me to say I was building houses for the underprivileged when I was actually having four-way sex in a cave in Brazil.” Part of what makes these exaggerated scandals so funny is the way that the writers purposefully mirror real life, ribbing on the indiscretions of actual politicians gracing the U.S.’s political stage — in that particular case, Congressman Mark Sanford (R-S.C.).
The winner of two Golden Globes in the Drama category, Homeland stars Claire Danes, known for My So-Called Life and Temple Grandin, as Carrie Mathison, a re-assigned CIA agent who suspects a returned hero may have been turned in Iraq. She’s already in the dog house for an operation in Iraq sans approval, and as the show progresses, she breaks all the rules to prove that the man has switched sides.
On top of all that intrigue, she’s bipolar, going off her meds, and bordering on the brink of insanity and irrational obsession throughout the show. Sometimes she’s the principled and driven agent — but other times, she manages an impressive set of crazy eyes.
In 24 we have a prime example of an oldie but a goodie. In ways it has a similar drive to it as Homeland, with unthinkable consequences on the line leading Jack Bauer to take drastic action to stop assassination attempts and terrorist attacks. The political side to 24 relates back to The Wire as well, allowing us to see agents at work, but then pulling in a series of presidents and their family, giving us an on the ground view, as well as a political tangle to follow as the 24 hours ticks away and the tension in each season invariably rises.
When it comes to corruption, well, you need look no further than the long line of suspected moles and spies that crop up over the many seasons, many within the White House. Wiki24 has an impressive list of the moles from each season, totaling just under twenty — and there’s a few that we really can’t be sure of.