Ben Platt in the Politician

I Have Issues with The Politician’s Use of Joni Mitchell’s “River”

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**Spoilers for the first episode of The Politician lie ahead so beware my snark**

I guess I should start this off by saying that I have been a reluctant Ryan Murphy stan since I was 11 years-old, so I love The Politician but also, as with so many of Murphy’s shows, I have some issues. For now, though, let’s start small and just talk about the show’s use of Joni Mitchell’s “River.”

Murphy, who loves to name characters after songs so then he can have that song be used for an emotional moment (i.e. Jesse St. James on Glee), decided to name the sweetest of boys River Barkley (David Corenswet). Why, you ask? Well, because River Barkley kills himself whilst standing in front of his lover, Payton Hobart (Ben Platt) and, to honor him, Payton sings a cover of Joni Mitchell’s Christmas classic “River” at his Memorium at school.

Here’s my problem: It’s a Christmas song, has nothing to do with this boy other than sharing a name, and is clearly Murphy trying to manufacture an opportunity for Ben Platt to sing because the world knows Ben Platt for his singing career. (He won a Tony for his performance as Evan Hansen in Dear Evan Hansen.) But they’re really highlighting this moment and have even been using it in the social media marketing for the show.

So why do I have such a problem with this? First, there’s the fact that The Politician is far from the first show to ever use “River” for an emotional impact. In fact, it isn’t even the first Ryan Murphy show to do so.

My personal favorite comes from the Calista Flockhart classic Ally McBeal when Larry Paul (Robert Downey Jr.) sings it.

So it’s not exactly original. It happens frequently. It is also in Love Actually and Billions and New Girl and Doctors and…do you want me to go on? It keeps going because this song is used time and time again to the point where it almost just seems lazy. But Ryan Murphy thrives on the youths, who can, through no fault of their own, be less inclined to notice overused tropes. I myself was one of said youths who fell victim to his ways.

There’s also the issue of Payton Hobart, who much like Glee’s Rachel Berry, is creature of ambition. But Ryan Murphy seems to hate anyone and everyone who has ever been ambitious. Yes, I, myself, am extremely ambitious so I tend to love and identify with these characters and want more for them, but whatever the case, Payton Hobart singing “River” to honor River Barkley did not bring me to tears. What it did do was infuriate me because a) there are lots of other Joni Mitchell songs to chose from, even other options on her record Blue and b) it felt like a forced attempt to make us feel bad for Payton, a character we barely knew.

But seriously, there are other Joni Mitchell songs. Please use them in the future. Thank you.

(image: Netflix)

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Rachel Leishman
Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. She's been a writer professionally since 2016 but was always obsessed with movies and television and writing about them growing up. A lover of Spider-Man and Wanda Maximoff's biggest defender, she has interests in all things nerdy and a cat named Benjamin Wyatt the cat. If you want to talk classic rock music or all things Harrison Ford, she's your girl but her interests span far and wide. Yes, she knows she looks like Florence Pugh. She has multiple podcasts, normally has opinions on any bit of pop culture, and can tell you can actors entire filmography off the top of her head. Her current obsession is Glen Powell's dog, Brisket. Her work at the Mary Sue often includes Star Wars, Marvel, DC, movie reviews, and interviews.