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Sunday, April 22, 2012

Scandal - first impressions

Spoiler free

Scandal focuses on Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington), a woman who helped the president get elected and then started her own crisis management firm. She’s a more likable (yet less delicious) version of Eli Gold on The Good Wife. Olivia is a fixer. She does not work for truth and justice, but for her clients, which is fine with us because we have enough shows focused on ensuring justice. Her team includes former CIA and lawyers who investigate claims and try to get her clients out of hot water in Washington D.C. The clients are mostly politicians. Quinn, a new recruit, brings wide-eyed idealism and awe of Olivia to the table. Desmond from LOST is in this. The president is pretty hot for an old guy.

Leeard warmed up to this show a lot quicker than Ern did. Grey’s Anatomy meets The West Wing, so pretty much the perfect show for Leeard. Ern thought the pilot was sleazy and that it was difficult to care about any of the characters until the next two episodes aired. The first couple of scenes tried way too hard. They are too talky. You know Shonda Rhimes speeches, right? Well you get about three too many in the first scenes of the pilot. You know how her characters always speak fast and nervous? It’s the same thing here. It’s clear Shonda wrote this. Did they have to say that they were “gladiators in suits” 1,209 times? Do people have to verbally point out that Olivia Pope is legendary? The rule is “show, don’t tell” for a reason.

Also, the first episode had some annoying, uninspired, heavy-handed political bias toward the left. The blogger writing this paragraph is a moderate, but in the entertainment world, any bias or preaching toward either side turns off half the viewers in this country. Fortunately, the show dialed it down and recognized that scandal does not favor one political party over another. They all mess up and sleep around. Neither of us appreciate the red-headed character, Abby, who comes across as smug, self-righteous, assumptive, and not at all aware that there are good people that just genuinely disagree with her.

After the pilot, Ern wondered if she was going to care about politicians and their scandals. Most of them are sex scandals. Is that the only thing a politician can do wrong? Is sex the ultimate dirty thing? (No.) We’d like to see Olivia and her team tackle some other kinds of issues soon. Why should we be rooting for their problems to be fixed or their failures to be covered up? All truth should and will come out. Covering up people’s dirty laundry is the worst thing for them as people, even if they are politicians. The final scenes of the pilot made Ern wonder: Is Olivia Pope a bad guy? The show takes great pains to tell us no, she’s not bad. Olivia is supposed to be a superhero. A crusader. A character said, “She’s one of the good guys.” Another replies, “No, she’s the best guy.” Later, someone says, “Olivia Pope. She wears the white hat.”

But Olivia is a fixer. This show is focused on making Olivia look good rather than delving into the grey area that is her occupation. Maybe Olivia is a good guy trying to do a dirty job the best she can. Maybe wearing the white hat means that when Olivia has a choice, she helps politicians who are good for this country or she occasionally takes on victims as clients. Maybe it means that she does the best she can with the situations she is given. In one episode, Olivia saw to it that someone took responsibility for their actions. These days, the media are so intrusive and the public so judgmental that holding the hands of people who have messed up is an honorable job. Maybe a white hat would mitigate damage so that mostly successful, influential people can move on with the good parts of their lives. Maybe it’s compassion for the imperfect.

But it seems on Scandal that being savvy, strong, reputable, clever, and excellent at your job is a good in itself. There’s good and bad in every occupation. Hell, one of us is months away from being a lawyer. There are very few greyer-area jobs than that. Still, this issue needs to be addressed. A strength of this show could be watching Olivia face interesting moral quandaries as a generally good person in a cesspit. We’d like to see a few issues like the end of the movie Gone Baby Gone. This premise could raise similar questions. 

We would like to see the show ask tough questions rather than simply try to dazzle us with how cool, flashy, and skilled Olivia and her team are. Stop telling us she’s a white hat. Show us how that’s possible as a Fixer. The third episode started to do that. It was mostly the pilot that seemed unaware of its ethics issues and over-pushed Olivia as the best thing since sliced bread. Leeard didn't have Ern's problems with this show's morals. Leeard thinks that if the characters on the show think Olivia is good and if Shonda does, it doesn't matter what we think, but she does agree that to the audience, there should probably be some debate about whether Olivia and her team are good or bad. We both fully expect there to be some episodes where Olivia faces a moral dilemma. As usual, we understand where the other is coming from and agree to disagree. 

Some of the plots move too fast to avoid holes and come off as unrealistic, but the overall premise is believable, fresh, and creative. We know that any Shonda Rhimes show is going to have storylines that drive us up the wall. We also know that any Shonda show is going to have elements of her own personal fantasies. We’ve watched Grey’s Anatomy and what works there works here also. In the end of the pilot, an affair is revealed and we are wondering if Shonda thinks this is supposed to be the new Meredith and Derek.

There are plenty of fun twists, even though two of them we’ve seen on other shows, and there is good pacing. The cast and acting are perfect. Like Grey’s Anatomy, there are soapy and serial elements as well as cases of the week. We love Liza Weil (Paris from Gilmore Girls) as Amanda Tanner. We’ve always loved that actress. Fortunately, it’s less cutesy than Off the Map (which Leeard still misses). This is going to end up being like Grey’s Anatomy in that there will be portions that drive us crazy, but overall, we think we are going to be addicted to this show. Problems aside, we’re definitely going to finish the season. If you don't like this show from the pilot, definitely give it a couple more episodes.

Sweet Baby (Pilot): C
Dirty Little Secrets: B+
Hell Hath No Fury: B+

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