'Battleground' Review: Apolitical 'Office' Politics Worth Your Streaming Vote

The makers of Hulu’s first original series, “Battleground,” clearly didn’t want to rile up either side of the ideological aisle.

The show, which follows the Senatorial bid of a Wisconsin politician, puts the emphasis on “office,” not “politics.”

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It’s a shrewd ploy given the stakes at play. “Battleground” won’t be the first original show Hulu streams in 2012. But by avoiding partisanship it makes sure it won’t be instantly lumped into the rest of the mainstream media. It also allows viewers to concentrate on the content, not any ideological distractions.

“Battleground” can survive such scrutiny. The first two episodes won’t make anyone cut the cable cord and dedicate themselves to streaming. For a workplace comedy you’ll find very few laughs here. But the show offers engaging characters and enough Inside the Beltway chicanery to please an election year audience.

The series uses “The Office’s” faux documentary gimmick to record a pivotal period in the Senatorial campaign of Wisconsin State Set. Deirdre Samuels (Meighan Gerachis).

Campaign manager Chris “Tak” Davis (Jay Hayden, “The House Bunny”) has his hands full trying to unseat a popular incumbent Senator. But Tak’s crack team of volunteers, a youthful crew brimming with optimism, might just make the difference. It helps that the incumbent isn’t so bright, and that Samuels is the kind of earnest politician who can cut through the political gibberish.

But Samuels must overcome rumors of her sexuality, an embarrassing YouTube clip and a campaign brimming with romantic tension before even thinking about victory on Election Day.

Hayden is a charmer, all right. Think Noah Wyle from “E.R.” but with flashes of cruel efficiency when the situation demands. He’s the focus of the show, but the ensemble cast is given more than enough time to register over two new episodes available to the press. Young Ben Werner (Ben Samuel) is our campaign conduit, a nerdy but passionate volunteer just happy to make a difference. He’s ripe for rookie hazing, but he handles the indignities with a quiet, stubborn pride.

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And then there’s Jordan T. Mosley (Jordan T. Maxwell), the candidate’s son who thinks he’s entitled to all the perks his family stature offers. He’s a buffoon, but there’s something oddly sweet about him. “Battleground” doesn’t serve up a breakout star, but for now Maxwell’s unctuous character will make do.

It’s interesting that the first two episodes run roughly 22 minutes or so, about what a standard sitcom might be without commercial breaks. Then again, the show began its life with Fox before ending up on Hulu. So the comedy’s DNA has plenty in common with network fare.

So far, “Battleground” doesn’t strain itself making us laughs, nor does it yield many. It’s an agreeable experience all the same, and few will be sore for streaming it. Political junkies might want bloodier “combat”scenes, but the show strikes a fair balance between insider politics and general audience entertainment.

It’s not TV. It’s Hulu. And for now, “Battleground” shows the upstart content provider can hang with its broadcast peers.


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