Summer isn’t just for catching up on old shows like the The Comeback and I’ll be using the hiatus to finally start watching one of the most talked about shows of the last year and that’s Scandal (much like my Freaks and Geeks discussion partner Julie Hammerle – her catch up list is pretty great). I’d also like to squeeze in Enlightened and finally crack open my Parenthood DVDs before the next batch of shows like Ray Donovan, The Bridge, Dexter and Breaking Bad start, but I’m not sure how likely this will be (especially with my ever growing book pile, work and seeing people).
Be warned I’m about to become obsessed with everything Olivia Pope is doing and wearing.
Considering how much Scandal is talked about on my Twitter feed I’ve managed to remain spoiler free so I went into the pilot knowing very little beyond the fact that it is set in Washington, Olivia has a past relationship with the President and they work in some sort of crisis management. I’ve only ever seen one episode of Grey’s Anatomy (randomly when I was on holiday in New Zealand) so this is also my first real experience of a Shonda Rhimes show.
Scandal has received a lot of positive endorsements and I’m totally all in from the pilot episode; it sets up the high stakes of the show, introduces a vast amount of characters in a succinct manner and presents several interesting conflicts all within 42 minutes. This can be the problem with pilots as they have very little time to create a whole new world (now I’m singing the song from The Little Mermaid) but Scandal balances the short term pilot plot (the Sully murder case) and what I’m guessing is the season long arc (the President’s affair with his aide).
Our point of entry is Quinn, who has just been hired to work for Olivia – but not at a law firm like we are used to seeing on this type of procedural. Certain points are reinforced – they work for their client and no one else, they are the “good guys” with Olivia as their “best guy” and they’re “Gladiators in suits.” As with Joan’s statement in the Mad Men pilot “This is why I don’t allow crying in the break room,” Quinn is told the same as it’s not something Olivia believes in (she’s not impervious to emotion as we see later in the restaurant after her confrontation with Fitz). The decades might be different but office politics are still the same.
The show that Scandal most reminds me of from the pilot is The Good Wife with its mixture of politics, sex and law – this is by no means a bad thing as The Good Wife is one of my favorite shows. Like Alicia Florrick, Olivia Pope is working in the moral grey area as we see her negotiating in a variety of styles. This includes visiting the District Attorney (played by Joshua Malina!) in the middle of the night and casually mentioning that she’ll get the media involved and put an unfavorable spin on things, threatening to ruin Amanda, a young women who claims that she has been having an affair with the President and getting her co-worker Stephen (who I might be calling Desmond in my notes) to propose to his girlfriend. One repeated notion is Olivia’s gut instinct is never wrong, except it is in the case of Amanda as it turns out the President has been having an affair. It’s important for the protagonist to have a flaw and Olivia’s weak spot is President Fitz and while they both clearly have feelings for each other, the scene in the Oval Office is incredibly uncomfortable and instantly makes me dislike his character.
With such a large cast it’s not surprising that I spent half the episode going “hey it’s that guy” – I’ve only just realized that Tony Goldwyn who plays Fitz was in Ghost and played a dodgy judge in The Good Wife. I spent half of the episode trying to place Abbey (who feels like Scandal’s less mysterious Kalinda) and halfway through I pretty much yelled Mad Men at the screen as I remembered that she plays Glen Bishop’s mother Helen. Have Wes Brown (Sully) and Kerr Smith (Dawson’s Creek’s Jack McPhee) ever played brothers?
The standout performance is of course from Kerry Washington who manages to convey Olivia’s heartbreak at Fitz’s betrayal in such an astounding way; from the moment Quinn mentions “Sweet Baby” to her anger and disappointment when she confronts Fitz. Washington commands the rooms she is in, whether dealing with a kidnapped baby or her client’s refusal to reveal the truth about his sexuality. Olivia’s only weakness seems to be the President but by the end of the episode she has found a way to regain control of this situation as she takes on Amanda as a client.
I’m looking forward to watching more and finally being caught up on this much talked about show. Plus I’m already dreaming of a job where I can dress like Olivia Pope.