Scandal didn’t strike me as the kind of show I would normally like. Created by Shonda Rhimes, the show looks like a soap opera with a political background. And it is. But it’s also pretty compelling in many ways.
The show focuses on Olivia Pope and Associates, an organization of fixers who work to help political clients deal with news fallout. They fashion themselves as white-hat gladiators, working to help people who deserve it. The two things that made me want to watch it were: 1) Jenny thought I would like it (a high value recommendation, for sure); 2) it has Joshua Molina, an actor I have enjoyed since his days on Sports Night. A few thoughts about the first two seasons of the show:
- The show puts a lot of stock in the romance between Olivia and the President (who is married to another woman), and regularly reverts to sexy sex scenes between the two. These are, I’ll admit, pretty sexy. But overall I find their behavior juvenile and annoying, and as this is the main driver for many plot aspects of the show, it’s a pretty big negative.
- I like the side characters a lot–particularly Huck, the socially awkward maven who can do anything related to spycraft but also has a mean streak. Each of the side characters has their own darkness and benefits, and these are far more interesting to me than is Olivia’s doomed love for President Fitz.
- Like many soap operas, (or like Alias, to which this show owes a strong debt), villains and heroes slip in and and out of favor with shocking frequency. As we think about each character, the water gets muddied and we must struggle with the question of whom to root for (Everyone has their dirty. Well, almost everyone).
- One core idea at the heart of the show that gets very little introspection (though it isn’t completely ignored) is the idea that a secret network of influence and power in Washington controls much of what happens, and that the public-facing aspect has little importance. Narratively, this is a key idea as it gives the characters something to do. In the real world, even as it is likely true, it’s a real bummer of an idea. Especially because any characters in the show who try to peel back that layer of corruption ends up dead.
- The show establishes a great rhythm, often ending on a cliffhanger. For a while, I was watching episodes in pieces — I would watch the last 30 minutes of an episode and 15 of the next, so as to minimize the desire to just watch the next episode, and the next, and the next. Etc.
Scandal trades on the X-Files model, which depends on a good balance between single episode stories and long arcs with consequences for the characters. Like X-Files, it also has been building layer upon layer of conspiracy which could very well undermine the big payoff we always hope for in a story like this. We’ll see what happens in season 3.