Dispatches From The Couch (Re: Hulu’s BATTLEGROUND)

One of the best shows on television isn’t actually airing on television… at least, not unless you happen to be streaming Hulu to it. But whether you want to watch on your laptop, phone or television, that site’s BATTLEGROUND has become one of the most relevant, funny and emotion-packed shows out there.

For the uninitiated, BATTLEGROUND is what you’d get if THE OFFICE and THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW had a baby. Using the former’s faux-documentary style and the latter’s ability to make politics interesting to even those who think of themselves as wildly uninterested in the democratic process.

The show focuses on the efforts of a rag-tag crew of campaign staffers during the final four weeks of their efforts to see their cash-strapped candidate, Deidre Samuels, win the Wisconsin Senate primary race. But as with all truly great shows, the plot is little more than a device on which to hang the characters who populate this world. Our ticket into the race is bright-eyed Ben Werner (the disarmingly charming Ben Samuel) whom we meet on his first day working under campaign manager Chris “Tak” Davis (Jay Hayden).

One of the most appealing things about the series is that unlike THE OFFICE, BATTLEGROUND knows how to deal with its Dwight, who in this case is Jordan T. Mosley (Jordan T. Maxwell), the self-proclaimed campaign senior advisor. Jordan, like Dwight, is a complete buffoon who, in the real world, would have no chance of remaining employed… were it not for the fact that his father married the candidate. But where Dwight has been given free rein to unleash increasingly-unfunny havoc, Jordan has been given a semi-reluctant “keeper” in social media coordinator Ali (whose portrayer, Alison Haislip, does some of the best “please tell me the camera is catching this” reaction shots since the early days of Jenna Fischer’s OFFICE-bound Pam).

Over the past 10 weeks (new episodes premiere each Tuesday, and all remain available on the site), we’ve watched relationships form while others have crumbled under the pressure of the campaign. The show is funny, but is perhaps one of the best true examples of dramedy in that it has never attempted to be a comedy. Instead, it is one of the best examples of what the overused term “dramedy” can truly be under a gifted writer such as creator J.D. Walsh (aka Gordon of TWO AND A HALF MEN). Whereas THE OFFICE (and, for that matter, MODERN FAMILY) has never done a particularly great job of integrating the supposed-documentarian’s camera into the action — wouldn’t many of the Dunder-Miflin staff have been fired ages ago if their antics were actually aired? And if they haven’t yet been aired, who is financing this never-ending shoot? — the cameras on BATTLEGROUND are, as they should be, another character. They are, in essence, us. As events unfold, Tak and company may temporarily forget they are being filmed, but when particularly awkward moments take place, they never fail to remember (usually a tad too late) that their every move is being filmed.

Furthermore, as THE OFFICE attempts to make paper relevant in a world that’s increasingly going paperless, there may be no hotter topic in this, an election year, than the folks who shape the messages used to ferry their chosen candidate into the winner’s circle.

Richard M. Simms is executive editor of Soaps In Depth magazine and the author of Crimes Against Civility. You can tweet him at @DispatchesFTC

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