Sigourney Channels Hillary in “Political Animals”

The Sigourney-as-Hillary show, set to debut on USA Sunday, fills a void in Election Year TV drama – and marks a pop culture comeback of sorts for Clinton.

After Hillary Clinton lost the Democratic presidential nomination to Barack Obama and John McCain tapped Sarah Palin as his GOP running mate in 2008, the two most prominent women in U.S. politics got an instant-classic, two-for-one parodying on "Saturday Night Live."

"I was so excited when I was told that Sen. Clinton and I would be addressing you tonight," gushed Palin/Tina Fey. "And I was told I would be addressing you alone," snarled Clinton/Amy Poehler.

The sketch not only reflected a change on the political stage, but a shift in the place of both pols – and powerful women in general – in the pop cultural landscape.

Palin lost the election, but morphed into a political celebrity equally at home on Reality TV as on Fox News. Clinton, meanwhile, changed the game again by adding secretary of state to a resume that includes first lady, U.S. senator and presidential candidate.

Now Clinton is making a pop culture comeback of sorts, courtesy of "Political Animals," the USA mini-series that debuts Sunday and stars Sigourney Weaver as a secretary of state with a Hillary-like backstory. It's unclear what Clinton thinks of the effort, but she could do a lot worse than being portrayed by the woman who played Ripley.

The show’s creators have downplayed any direct tie between Clinton and Weaver’s character, Elaine Barrish Hammond, a former first lady and presidential also-ran tapped to be the nation’s top diplomat. As Weaver diplomatically put it on “Today” this week, "Certainly, we are inspired by Mrs. Clinton....It is a tribute to politicians like Mrs. Clinton, but it's both sides. It's the light and the dark."

It's also about timing, which, in entertainment and politics, is everything.

The show, whose debut comes nearly 20 years to the day after Bill Clinton officially notched the Democratic presidential nod, underscores the love-'em-or-hate-'em hold the Clintons retain on the popular imagination.

"Political Animals," as we've noted, also comes amid a spate of shows and movies about politically powerful women, ranging from last year’s Margaret Thatcher bio-pic "The Iron Lady" to Palin's various ventures to the winning HBO comedy "Veep." In March, HBO broadcast "Game Change," based on a book about the 2008 election. The focus was on Palin, but could have just as easily told Clinton's compelling story, as detailed in the book.

Perhaps most importantly, "Political Animals" vies to fill a void in serious national political drama during a key election year. The Los Angeles Times notes the show uses the same Oval Office set from "The West Wing," which closed shop six years – or 11/2 terms – ago.

We'll see how "Political Animals," slated for a six-episode run (or a “limited series event” as USA calls it), measures up to the much-missed NBC drama. One early review, from The Hollywood Reporter, indicated the show is less "West Wing"-like and more reminiscent of "Dallas,” which might be closer to political (and domestic) reality.

In the meantime, check out a preview for "Political Animals" and revisit the unforgettable "SNL" sketch as we gird for a political year likely to bring new surprises and satires:

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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