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Top 10 Best Political Dramas

VO: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Jason C. McLean
Politics can be a dirty game or an honorable public service. Either way, there will be drama. Welcome to WatchMojo.com and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 political dramas. For this list, we’re focusing on politically themed television dramas set in modern times. Be warned, though, just as leaks are a part of politics, they’re also a part of this list, in the form of spoilers.
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Politics can be a dirty game or an honorable public service. Either way, there will be drama. Welcome to WatchMojo.com and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 political dramas.

For this list, we’re focusing on politically themed television dramas set in modern times. Be warned, though, just as leaks are a part of politics, they’re also a part of this list, in the form of spoilers.

#10: “Political Animals” (2012)


This miniseries about a political family features Sigourney Weaver as Elaine Barrish, a former First Lady and current Secretary of State with Presidential aspirations of her own. If this sounds familiar, the show's creators admit that Weaver's character is loosely based on Hillary Clinton, but there are differences: Barrish is also a former governor of Illinois, and divorced. Her ex-husband’s continued antics are a threat to her political career, as is her son’s failed recovery from drug addiction. Flipping back and forth between the drama at home and the drama at work, “Political Animals” is a look at what spending time in the White House can do to a family.

#9: “Madam Secretary” (2014-)


Finding a balance between work and home life isn’t always easy. When your day job is Secretary of State for the U.S. government, it becomes that much more complex. Elizabeth McCord, played by Téa Leoni, finds that out the hard way when she’s recruited for the job by her old CIA boss, who now just so happens to be the President. We see her managing a staff she inherited from her predecessor, investigating the former Secretary’s unexpected death and adapting to – and in some cases challenging – the way things work behind closed doors in Washington. The focus, though, is on the international incidents she’s trying to stop, and her effort to get home to her still-young family.

#8: “Boss” (2011-12)


Kelsey Grammer stars as Tom Kane, the cutthroat Mayor of Chicago, but right from the beginning, there’s a twist: he’s been diagnosed with Lewy body dementia and is slowly losing his grip on reality. “Boss” shows us corrupt big city politics with all the scheming and violence you might expect, but much of it is seen through the eyes of a protagonist whose viewpoint the audience can’t trust. This stylish drama is filled with smart political speeches, dirty deeds done with impunity and a slew of compelling characters. Unfortunately, the series was cancelled after just two seasons, so be prepared for plot points that remain unresolved should you dive into this political powerhouse.

#7: “The Politician’s Husband” (2013)


This three-part BBC miniseries takes the concept of the political power couple and turns it on its head. When a highly placed cabinet minister resigns as a power move and it fails, it’s up to his wife to come out of his shadow publicly while privately taking his place and carrying his scheme to the next level. The only problem is she can’t – at least not without destroying her own career. Can their marriage and jobs survive them fighting on different sides? And what happens when a rumored affair enters into the picture? It’s when political and personal lives get intertwined that things get really interesting.

#6: “House of Cards” [UK] (1990)


This British drama, based on a novel, is set in the era following the end of Margaret Thatcher’s tenure as Prime Minister. The main protagonist is Chief Conservative Whip Francis Urquhart who, with the support of his wife, schemes his way up the political ladder. He’s based on two of Shakespeare’s most ambitious and ruthless characters: Richard the Third and Macbeth. And in the style of Britain’s greatest playwright, Urquhart lets the audience in on his scheming through soliloquies and asides spoken directly to the camera. Initially a four-episode miniseries, the story continues in two other similar installments: To Play the King and The Final Cut.

#5: “The Good Wife” (2009-16)


The political sex scandal is about as old as politics itself. One aspect of it that we rarely see dramatized, though, is what happens to the innocent party – the one that’s cheated on. This Emmy-winning series starts from that point with the Cook County, Illinois Special Prosecutor forced to resign for infidelity. His wife, a lawyer, is then swept into the ruthless world of Chicago politics. This drama operates in two worlds, with the legal story resolved at the end of each episode but the underlying political plot forming story arcs that carry over. In the case of “The Good Wife” – and its spinoff/sequel series “The Good Fight” - it’s the best, or sometimes the worst, of both worlds.

#4: “Scandal” (2012-18)


If the category were steamiest or sexiest political drama, this Shonda Rhimes creation would most likely top the list. The most prominent political intrigue on this show revolves around the people, not their policies. Led by Kerry Washington in her groundbreaking role as Olivia Pope, the focus is on what they do behind closed doors and what they don’t want the public to know. From the bedrooms of power to the dark alleys and secret prisons of Washington, DC, those behind the politicians are on the real quest for dominance. And it’s those who cover up their scandals that make their climb up the political ladder possible.

#3: “Homeland” (2011-)


This Emmy-winning psychological thriller highlights the politics at play in the spy world. Claire Danes’ Carrie Mathison navigates the internal bureaucracy at play at CIA headquarters while trying to thwart politically motivated international terror plots at home and abroad. Living with bipolar disorder, she’s also trying her best to stay mentally stable and on her meds. This is a world where it’s hard to tell who’s really on what side, where even the people closest to you can be manipulated to turn against you. It’s a frequently violent, fast-paced show where the stakes are often life and death.

#2: “House of Cards” (2013-18)


Cold, calculating, manipulative, ruthless and extremely ambitious: those words describe practically every character on this Netflix Original series, and it’s exactly what has made the Underwoods specifically a very successful power couple in this bleak vision of Washington, DC. While based on the previously mentioned British drama of the same name – complete with Shakespearian asides to the camera – this “House of Cards” is very American and very modern, and not just because of its cinematography and pacing. It also happened to be the first streaming-only series to be nominated for some major Emmy Awards. It’s easy to see why!

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:
- “Secret State” (2012)
- “Commander in Chief” (2005-06)

#1: “The West Wing” (1999-2006)


This multiple Emmy Award-winning Aaron Sorkin series is the modern political drama that others aspire to emulate. It follows the daily work of senior White House staff during the administration of fictional President Josiah Bartlet, played with gravitas and humility by Martin Sheen. Through smart, quick and memorable dialogue, the ensemble cast debates current issues from both sides and deals with the kind of intense situations that are the norm in the political world. They frequently do this while heading from one place to another in one of the show’s famous walk-and-talks, a technique Sorkin and “The West Wing” are famous for.
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