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Three and out

Four or five episodes in, and by my reckoning, Mister Sterling has pretty much jumped the shark. Wasn’t much of a shark, at that. There was a lot of promise in the premise of a Senator appointed to fill out a term who turned out to be an independent, but it’s squandered by making him a Democrat in independent clothing. So far, other than a quick list of issues in the first episode, there’s really nothing about him that doesn’t follow the liberal line. Which isn’t a bad thing per se, but don’t tell me he’s an independent thinker. Heck, his true blue Democratic staff anointed him as “the guy we always wanted to work for” last episode.

It’s not as if there aren’t plenty of examples out there. He could have been Ron Paul. Well, OK, there’s no way in hell that show would have gotten picked up, but it would have been entertaining. He could have been Bernie Sanders or Paul Wellstone, and that might have actually worked. It’s a shame.

Tonight’s episode pissed me off enough to remind me that I’d meant to follow up my initial review. The crisis of the week is a nice Guatemalan cleaning lady whose mother is dying, and who wants to go back to say goodbye for a day. Alas, her green card application is still in process so if she leaves the country she can’t come back. Senator Sterling runs roughshod over INS and in the end gets his way.

Which really sucks, because there was a great speech from the Commissioner of the INS about how if they made every decision individually the green card backlog would be ten years long. Really good, came across as really principled, definitely thought-provoking. It was shot down about five seconds later when everyone points out that the guy’s just posturing to get something for himself. Sterling winds up threatening the Commissioner and gets his way.

That strikes me as a total copout, since it doesn’t address the argument against making exceptions and in the end what you have is a Senator who bullies bureaucrats to make sure that the right thing happens. He sure doesn’t address any fundamental problems, like helping the INS streamline procedures. The message is that everything would be OK if the 100 Senators just took a personal interest in every problem case. Great.

Oh, and of course the entire controversy could have been avoided if instead of trying to convince the INS to ignore their own regulations, Senator Sterling just asked someone to expedite the processing of the cleaning lady’s application. Me, I’d have gone that way instead of asking a mid-level INS staffer to go to the airport and sneak the cleaning lady back into the country. But that’s just me.

Oddly, I’m still kind of enjoying the show, but I think it’s because of Audra McDonald (who plays Senator Sterling’s chief of staff) and Stanley Kamel (the former chief of staff). Kamel in particular is really solid as the lifetime staffer who is the best money raiser in the country; it’d have been easy to play him as the bad guy, but Kamel’s portraying someone who just doesn’t know any other way to be. Nice nuances. The rest of the cast is OK, but nobody’s working too hard, if you know what I mean. Oh, and Josh Broslin, Senator Sterling himself, is pretty much just overacting.

So yeah. Some fun performances, and a lot of utterly dorky politics. You could save the whole thing by turning it into a dark story about the rise of a new Huey Long — Sterling’s got that populist flair — but somehow I think they aren’t gonna go that way.

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