October 10, 2013


Kerry Washington in SCANDAL.


EDITOR’S NOTE: This post is dedicated to four very special women I’m lucky to have as friends: Tammy, Desiree, Shawn and Adrienne, much love. See, sometimes persistence pays off.

SCANDAL (Thursdays at 10PM E/P on ABC with next day streaming on Hulu) has the distinction of being one of the few shows I’ve given myself multiple opportunities to get into. Each time, I never made it past the silly pilot. Still, I adore Kerry Washington and have several close friends who go ga ga for the series. “I must be missing something,” I thought. So, with a tumbler of pinot in hand, last weekend I embarked on a 30 episode binge-a-thon and finally cracked the code! I can now say, officially, I’ve been SCANDAL-ized.
Darby Stanchfield, Kerry Washington and Columbus Short in SCANDAL.
The best way to enjoy SCANDAL is to accept a set of givens and surrender yourself to them. Here’s what you have to suck up if you want to get on board:
  • It’s Shonda’s world (as in series creator Shonda Rhimes) and we’re just visiting. I run hot and cold with Rhimes. Personally, I respect the hell out of what she’s achieved but I don’t think she’s the flawless genius her die-hards make her out to be. For every GREY’S ANATOMY there’s an OFF THE MAP or a failed pilot like GILDED LILYS. Plus, based on often spectacular flame outs of cast members from all of her shows (Merrin Dungey, TR Knight, Henry Ian Cusick and Brooke Smith, to name a few), she’s one of those mercurial types I would never want to work for. Still, when she’s firing on all cylinders, she’s one of the most fearless producers in Hollywood.

  • The writing runs the gamut from just shy of amazing to just shy of cloying. It’s one of those shows where you can often “feel” the scripting process and picture a room full of writers slapping each other on the back for being so gosh-darn clever. This is more of a problem in the awkward first season when speechifying was a frequent crutch. Get past those episodes and things get much more delicious.

  • In Shondaland, there will always be at least one major character you’ll want to throttle. In SCANDAL, that distinction goes to Abby Whelan (played by Darby Stanchfield). When Whelan isn’t being a royal bitch (often for no apparent reason), she’s chirping like a magpie who refuses to shut up. Stanchfield is the weakest link in the core cast and has a voice that makes my ears bleed.

  • If you’re looking for logic or plots without holes, you will hate SCANDAL (seriously, if Huck is so good at what he does, why would he not know to alter the schedule of bug sweeps to Olivia’s apartment). What I appreciate, though, is that this is a show that loves its fans just as much as they love it. SCANDAL is proof that you can be asinine without being careless and silly without being stupid.
The infamous waterboarding of Huck (Guillermo Diaz) in SCANDAL.
In reality, SCANDAL is one massive conspiracy theory wrapped up in a hot-mess burrito of adultery, megalomania, paranoia, double crosses and full-tilt insanity. For all of it’s salaciousness, however, there is surprisingly little on-screen sex and what we do see is often wholly unsexy.

This is also the least “girly” series Rhimes has ever created. There are very few warm and fuzzies and it can get unflinchingly violent. It’s one of the few series I’ve seen on a broadcast network that had the balls to wipe out an entire family and show the bullet riddled corpses (dog included). The episode featuring the brutal torture of fan favorite Huck (Guillermo Diaz) made any hour of THE BRIDGE feel like a cake walk by comparison.
Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope in SCANDAL.
Kerry Washington is “fixer” Olivia Pope. It’s a role very few actors could play as pitch perfect as Washington always is. Make no mistake, Pope is beyond flawed. She is deeply and wholly screwed up. It’s a testimony to how gifted Washington is that she pulls it off so amazingly without benefit of much backstory. That missing link is finally being address this season. Daddy issues, anyone?

Aside from running a fancy crisis management business (with a few too many picture windows in the room where secrets are often discussed and displayed), Pope is bonking the President, takes on clients regardless of sleaze factor and was complicit in fixing a national election. Her adulterous relationship with the Commander In Chief forms the darkly twisted emotional core of SCANDAL. It’s a bold creative choice that takes romance in a decidedly disturbing direction.
Tony Goldwyn and Kerry Washington hug it out in SCANDAL.
While Washington has gotten the lion’s share of praise (deservingly so), SCANDAL is overflowing with great actors doing some of the best work of their careers. Rhimes has an uncanny knack for fitting the right actor in the right part, down to the smallest roles. She also refuses to abide by the traditional tropes of TV casting. That means you’ll see actors with wrinkles and imperfect bodies right along side the hotsy hotties. It’s refreshing.

Tony Goldwyn plays President Fitzgerald “Fitz” Grant (written as a Liberal’s fantasy version of a Republican) with equal parts ferocity and pathos. He is excellent throughout. Pope is the love of his life but he is firmly in thrall to the 24/7 power struggles swirling around him. Grant wants her but can’t resist his innate need to possess that which is not delivered to him by virtue of his position. To makes matters more uncomfortable, his wife is well aware of the affair. Oh yeah, in his spare time, Fitz offed an ailing Supreme Court Justice. Bless his little heart.
Bellamy Young and Tony Goldwyn in SCANDAL.
Speaking of the First Lady, all hail the miracle that is Bellamy Young and her bravura performance as Mellie Grant. Young takes what should be a thankless role and turns it into something that you have to marvel at. Hell hath no fury like a Mellie scorned.

Young plays the FLOTUS as Lady Macbeth, Nancy Regan, Hillary Clinton and Darth Vader all rolled up into one very pretty, very dangerous and very tragic character. You love to hate her, you hate to love her but you never lose that twinge of sympathy for her lot in life (even though it’s as much her doing as it is the result of circumstances beyond her control).
Kate Burton in SCANDAL.
Even hootier is GREY’S ANATOMY alum Kate Burton. She plays the Bible-thumping, morality spouting Vice President, Sally Langston. Burton is clearly having the time of her life in the role but, every time her character flirts with going cartoon, Burton’s acting chops and some sharp dialogue pull Langston back from the brink. Not only does it humanize her, it gives us some of the best “private moment” scenes in the series, like the Veep’s conversation over scotch (neat) with the President in the season opener.
Quinn (Katie Lowes) really gets into her work in SCANDAL.
Supporting players are also uniformly strong. With the exception of that Darby chick, Pope’s squad is a blast to watch. This includes Diaz as well as Columbus Short (playing attorney Harrison Wright) and Katie Lowes (Quinn/Lindsay). It’s as funny as it is disturbing to watch Quinn turning into Huck’s little protégé. She’s the last person you’d expect to see using a drill to extract information from someone but, lo and behold, there it is. Guys will not enjoy that scene. Ouch.
Dan Bucatinsky and Jeff Perry in SCANDAL.
SCANDAL also has the distinction of taking us behind the scenes of the single most wackadoo gay marriage you will ever see in primetime. One half of the couple is White House Chief of Staff Cyrus Beene (played to venom spewing perfection by Jeff Perry). Power is his aphrodisiac and his twisted devotion to President Grant borders on the sadistically fetishistic. That he’s also a sociopath with a penchant for permanently eliminating any human obstacle in his way, well that’s just icing on the cake.

His hubby, James Novak (played by Dan Bucatinsky), is an ambitious but unremarkable journalist who is easily distracted by shiny objects like exclusives with the First Lady or an adopted baby. Unbeknownst to him, Novak was also almost one of Beene’s expendables. Bucatinsky manages to do quite a bit with a poorly written recurring role. His Emmy win was well deserved.
Brenda Song and Joshua Malina in SCANDAL.
Rounding out the regular cast is the always reliable Joshua Malina. A vet of THE WEST WING and SPORTS NIGHT, here he plays AUSA David Rosen, the whipping boy for almost the entire run of the series. My one wish is that the wretched DADS gets cancelled and Brenda Song returns as Alissa, his legal secretary and welcome comic relief.

For a show created by a woman, SCANDAL has no major female characters who fill the “role model” slot. What I do like, however, is that Malina is playing the kind of role that would typically be played by a woman if a man was calling the shots on the show.
The cast of SCANDAL.
SCANDAL isn’t a show that yanks your chain. They pack more into a single episode than most series cover over a partial season. As is the norm for an ABC drama, production values are first rate. There's a rich, almost cinematic quality to the lighting, wardrobe and set design.

Still, the “camera shutter” scene transitions are lame and frequent montages using awkward freeze frames and rapid cutting are better left to second tier film school productions. None of that gets in the way of enjoying what is easily the most riotous, rambunctious and ribald serial to hit network television since a UFO abducted Fallon in the sign-off of the ill-fated DYNASTY spin-off THE COLBYS.

Fortunately, SCANDAL is no one-hit wonder. It puts the “opera” back in soap opera.

CLICK HERE for a great “catch-up” post from The Hollywood Reporter.