Each Friday in The Televangelist, Richard Clark examines the met and missed potential of television.
I don’t blame you for ignoring what is essentially a Web-series: Hulu’s new original show, Battleground. It’s hard to build a case for it based on the names associated with it: Only executive producer Marc Webb may catch your eye. He’s the guy who made 500 Days of Summer. But let’s be real. He’s an executive producer, a title we’ve learned over time means nothing. The actors are complete unknowns.
It’s easy to write the show off, but that would be a mistake. Battleground provides an unflinching look at the political world in a way that’s less about idealism and politics than it is about the personal impact that results from working in politics. Political television shows and films have a habit of being cynical about politics and, by extension, people in general. They often leave us wondering why we care about politics at all, since everyone involved is doing the wrong things for the wrong reasons all the time.
There’s a little bit of that in Battleground, but the show smartly focuses on relationships. A key theme throughout the show is how one area of our life can bleed into another for better or worse, and how our work and passions can impact those around us directly and indirectly. Tak, the star of the show and campaign manager for an underdog candidate running for Senate, finds his work overshadowing his family in a way that feels cliche at first: He works too much and doesn’t spend enough time with them. But later, it’s the ethos and stress that gets to him and causes him to treat the people in his life differently. The dirtier the campaign gets, the more off-course his relationships get, except for when he’s searching for refuge in them.
That blurred line between work and personal life is something we see in every area of the show. The show’s resident fool and comic relief is the son of the candidate, a deluded and ignorant fool whose entitlement fuels a series of mishaps for the campaign. Those come about because of bad parenting, not because of bad politics. As things get more complicated among the campaign staff, relational and trust issues result in campaign shake-ups. In the latest episode, the entire campaign is in jeopardy because of a revelation about the personal life of the candidate.
It makes sense then that this unknown show would be primarily about the unknown, unseen players behind a political campaign. This faux-documentary of the people behind the scenes of the political process unveils the how and the why of political campaigns and the scandal and news-manipulation associated with them. More often than not, there’s a lot more to the news than what’s on the surface. Behind all of the posturing, there are regular people. This is a show about them.