ABC’s drama series, Scandal, is like one of those legal thrillers you read on long airplane rides. It has interesting, well thought out characters who pull you into the plot and make you wonder about the skeletons in their closets. It has romance between the most unlikeliest of people, in this case involving the President of the United States. It has murder, intrigue, and just enough believability to keep the characters grounded in reality. That I watched the entire first season (it’s just seven hours) while on an airplane and stuck in an airport only heightened the fun and melodrama of the show. I’m hooked.
Created by Shonda Rhimes- she of Grey’s Anatomy fame– Scandal centers on a crisis management expert named Olivia Pope. As excellently played by Kerry Washington (Ray), Pope is the one person you want by your side if a) you have the cash and b) you have a PR problem on your hands. She’s basically a high profile fixer. Whereas Michael Clayton did his work behind the scenes, Olivia Pope is front and center and in the spotlight with you. She has a team of consultants that she’s handpicked to run her renowned firm. Her team includes: ladies man, Stephen Finch (Lost‘s Henry Ian Cusick); brilliant lawyer, Harrison Wright (Columbus Short); morally upright, Abby Whelan (Darby Stanchfield of Mad Men); former black ops hitman, Huck (Guillermo Diaz of Weeds); and mouth gaping, wide-eyed newcomer, Quinn Perkins (Katie Lowes).
Throughout the early episodes, the team handles a “case of the week” involving some wealthy or politically-tied client whose private affairs threaten to bring down their public lives. As these stories are presented, a season long arc about a White House intern who had an affair with the president plays out in the background. Pope has an ongoing relationship with the President stemming from her days working on his election campaign. Back then, she was brought in to help him win the presidency and unexpectedly (for her, anyway, not the viewers) fell in love with him. Worse, he’s still in love with her, despite his public image of being a loving husband to a conniving, politically motivated wife. Tony Goldwyn, perhaps best known as the slimeball who off’d Patrick Swayze in Ghost, does an admirable job of playing the President as a man torn between his heart and country.
Because there are only seven episodes in season one, the case of the week storytelling quickly gets placed aside in favor of the much more compelling scandal involving the President and the intern. As soon as the show makes that transition, it becomes much more compelling and really takes off. While it was interesting to observe Pope and Associates use their talents working on various scandals, the presidential storyline is much better realized and makes the show feel less routine.
Scandal isn’t a perfect show. One too many of the characters suffer from Rhimes-speak; the early hours place too much emphasis on Grey’s Anatomy type romantic subplots, and there are more than a few moments when you’ll smack your head at the way these supposedly brilliant legal minds behave. Still, Washington delivers such a strong, interesting performance that I was willing to overlook those problems. Plus, the show features Joshua Molina, late of Sports Night and The West Wing. He’s perfectly cast as a U.S. Attorney who is often at odds with Pope and her team. Somehow, he elevates the material, just like Washington. I’m not sure if Rhimes and company will be able to capitalize on the momentum the show achieved by the end of season one. If they can, I’ll be setting my DVR.