The TV shows all political junkies should watch

Don’t watch boring press conferences – try these Top 10 classics instead

Erin Mathews, University of Melbourne

Published 15 June 2016

If the 2016 Federal Election campaign has left you wanting more power games, political intrigue, backstabbing and/or inspiring leadership, we know where you can find it.

We asked the University of Melbourne’s political junkies for the 10 best shows for election campaign viewing.

10. occupied (2015- )

Occupied, also known by the Norwegian Okkupert, is a Scandinavian television export with a cult following and rave reviews.

Political science Professor Robyn Eckersley has converted us: “The Greens win government in Norway on a promise to stop oil and gas production. The economy goes downhill and the PM is kidnapped by the Russians and coerced into turning the taps back on (with the support of the EU), and so begins a great political thriller that shows the strengths and weaknesses of a peacenik approach to negotiation … plus much more.”

Apparently, those at the Kremlin are not fans.

9. homeland (2011- )

This CIA thriller has a swag of Emmys and Golden Globes. The recently-released fifth season brought it back to must-see TV. Election Watch Deputy Editor Heath Pickering recommends it as election campaign viewing because “it captures foreign policy at its best and worst”.

8. the killing season (2015)

Sarah Ferguson’s masterful three-part documentary on the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years is not fiction, though some may wish it was.

Senior Lecturer Eu-Jin Teo loves it because it’s “life (more than just) imitating art!” Election Watch editor Cathy Harper found the spectacularly bitter breakdown of a political relationship to be gripping viewing.

7. the thick of it (2005-2012)

This long-running British satire is a favourite of Melbourne School of Government Director Professor Helen Sullivan.

The Thick of It is absolutely no question the best show about politics. It shows just what happens when spin and advisors get out of control and is the source of the word omnishambles, one of the best new words in English for a long time!”

6. the sopranos (1999-2007)

This iconic mobster series can teach us volumes about the way power and politics works – and no, we don’t mean because of the violence and profanity.

“It is a wonderful commentary on the ways in which particular sorts of hierarchies operate embedded in a culture with its attendant set of values of beliefs,” says Associate Professor Helen Dickinson, from the School of Social and Political Sciences.

“When all works well life goes on in a relatively consistent way. When things go awry it is often the result of a series of minor slights or rumours that create vastly escalated disproportionate responses that none of the different characters are happy with.

“Ultimately, The Sopranos is about how to make a name for yourself in a context where most things feel like they have already been achieved. For those on the election trail this may feel like a pretty relevant scenario.”

5. scandal (2012- )

This American political thriller has it all. It follows Olivia Pope, a former White House Communications Director, and now the ultimate Washington ‘fixer’.

“It dramatises the worst scenarios of what can go wrong in a political office, in this case the Oval Office, and how the media sensationally covers scandals,” says Dr Andrea Carson from the School of Social and Political Sciences.

“Plus, the storylines know no bounds, which makes for light relief at the end of the working day.”

4. the hollowmen (2008)

“For excellence in capturing the current state of our political and policy processes you can’t go past The Hollowmen,” says Professor Rodney Keenan. “I’m waiting for the next announceable.”

There are only two seasons of this Working Dog classic, so we recommend short, regular doses to inoculate yourself against when the election campaign inevitably jumps the shark.

3. the west wing (1999-2006)

Aaron Sorkin’s iconic drama is the high water mark of political TV for many, and hey, who doesn’t want President Jed Bartlet as a benevolent dictator?

Dr Aaron Martin, from the School of Social and Political Sciences, says The West Wing definitely holds up to a re-watch because of “the amazing writing”. Pro tip: watch it with subtitles on.

2. house of cards (2013- )

“Much as we would love our politics to be like West Wing, it’s probably much more like House of Cards and the politics of power,” says Lillian Kline, the coordinator of the Pathways to Politics Program for Women.


If you haven’t done this yet, clear the weekend because Frank Underwood’s political underworld is essential viewing for our campaign. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has copped many comparisons to his spiritual doppleganger and the proof of their bond came when the PM called the election.

1. borgen (2010-2013)

This Danish political drama is the most loved among the University of Melbourne’s political junkies.

Associate Professor Sven Feldmann, from the Melbourne Business School, says Borgen, “like The West Wing, shows us how politics should be: primarily a vigorous debate about policy, not intrigue and back stabbing.”

Dr Nicholas Geard, from the Centre for Epidemiology and Biostatistics, says it “does a fantastic job of portraying the links between politics, media and business, the conflicts and compromises these entail, and the consequences for the public and personal lives of the politicians.

Plus it’s Danish, so the furniture is beautiful. Finally, only three seasons, so you can watch it before the election and still get some work done.” We’ll drink to that.

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Banner: MRC/Netflix

*This article has been co-published with Election Watch

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