Ben Platt, Gwyneth Paltrow in 'The Politician'
Courtesy of NETFLIX
Ben Platt, Gwyneth Paltrow in 'The Politician'
CNN —  

Marking Ryan Murphy’s first series for Netflix, “The Politician” feels like a mashup of the producer’s high-school-set dramas – a dollop of “Scream Queens,” a dash of “Glee,” and a whole lot of the Alexander Payne-directed movie “Election.” Throw in some high-profile casting, and it’s a shiny but not especially bright bauble that falls short of a winning ticket.

Like so many projects before it, the 20-somethings playing high-school students are only slightly more convincing as teenagers than the original “Grease” movie cast. Anchoring it all, meanwhile, is Broadway star Ben Platt (“Dear Evan Hansen”), who is given several excuses to sing, mostly, well, because.

Platt plays Payton Hobart, the adopted son of a filthy-rich family, who sees a student-body election as his steppingstone to an eventual leap into national politics and, ultimately, the White House. Driven beyond words, he’s surrounded by a handful of like-minded acolytes, who obsess over “polls” and firmly believe Payton when he says “I’m on a singular path” to greatness.

Still, there are plenty of hurdles, even in this nascent stage of his political endeavors, starting with the matter of finding a running mate for the race. Checking off boxes, Payton settles on a girl with cancer (Zoey Deutsch), though the uplifting nature of her story is clouded by her overbearing grandmother (Murphy regular Jessica Lange, vamping it up even more than she does in “American Horror Story”), who seems a little too enamored with the freebies associated with the teen’s plight.

Elsewhere, the over-the-top trappings include Gwyneth Paltrow as Payton’s mom, and Bob Balaban as her much-older husband – a May-December relationship if ever there was one, which seems ripe for stepping out on the side.

Murphy and his regular collaborators Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan certainly have a knack for conjuring wildly soapy situations, but their best shows balance those excesses in a way “The Politician” doesn’t. Indeed, almost everyone here is so exaggerated that it’s difficult to consistently care about what happens to them, despite all the assembled talent, which includes Bette Midler, January Jones and Dylan McDermott in smallish roles.

“The Politician” thus moves along briskly enough over the course of eight serialized episodes but spends most of that time in the shallow end of the Murphy gene pool – a nice showcase for Platt that otherwise feels more like a recycling of the producer’s filmography than anything fresh or original.

More big names arrive at the end, along with a twist clearly designed to carry the show into its second season. Yet with the latitude of producing for Netflix and its star-studded roster, the exit polls should rate “The Politician,” finally, as exactly the opposite of how Payton sees himself – namely, an underachiever on a familiar path.

“The Politician” premieres Sept. 27 on Netflix.