Scandal Season 1 Review
Starring: Kerry Washington, Katie Lowes, Henry Ian Cusick, Tony Goldwyn
ABC’s Scandal is based on a true story. Granted, the truth’s been stretched and turned into a soap opera, thanks to creator Shonda Rhimes. Based on real life beltway crisis manager Judy Smith, Scandal has Rhimes’s snappy dialogue, high stakes emotional drama, and explosive relationships. Like Rhimes’s successful Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal is a mid-season replacement for Private Practice – another Shonda Rhimes project. Washington DC is Hollywood for ugly people. Nobody casting Scandal paid attention to that rule. The cast is young, fresh-faced, good-looking. There’s been a trend of television shows dealing with Washington. Scandal doesn’t have the weight of an earlier show like The West Wing though its dialogue is just as quick. It won’t have the heart-pounding turns of Homeland, or the humour of Veep. Scandal isn’t even all political. The show does better when focusing on relationships; most of the politics is silly anyway.
Scandal starts with perky, eager-to-please lawyer Quinn Perkins (Katie Lowes), getting a new job at Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) is Quinn’s heroine. Olivia and her team are fixers – they preserve the reputations of DC politicians by keeping their secrets under wraps. Olivia will do anything to protect her clients. When White House intern Amanda Tanner (Liza Weil) claims she had an affair Republican President Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn), it’s up to Olivia to smooth things over. But soon, it turns out that Olivia’s dark secrets are more scandalous than her clients’.
For once Kerry Washington is playing the lead role she deserves. She’s played tough-as-nails before in films like ray, but her vulnerability as Olivia is fascinating. Olivia’s private life is practically non-existent on Scandal. To her clients, enemies, and employees, Olivia is a strong, well-dressed fighter. Olivia doesn’t ask, she commands. There’s not a person in DC who isn’t dying to save their skins. She treats everyone the same – from security guard, to the president of the United States. She talks a good game, but she isn’t always the best judge of character when it comes to her clients. It’s baffling considering she works in Washington Dc. There’s something underneath Olivia that Washington shows so well. There’s a reason why Olivia Pope seems on the brink of tears when she’s around the president and his team. Washington gives her a hint of fragility, but she shuts it off so quickly, that it’s clear she won’t let anyone in – the audience included.
As for the rest of the Scandal team, most of Olivia’s employees simply do her bidding, getting almost no back story at all. Each actor has to fight for screen time, and some do it better than others. President Grant is power-hungry and politically savvy. Combine that with Goldwyn’s deep voice, easy going, in-charge manner, and it’s easy to see why Grant became president despite his narcissism. He’s happiest when trying to control Olivia – an impossible task, but watching them fight a war of words is fun, until their speeches get in the way. New girl Quinn Perkins is in over her head and more than a little clueless. Katie Lowes plays her a little manic, dropping papers all over the office, awkwardly arguing with Olivia for more responsibility – arms flapping about the office, unsure of what to do with herself. Of course, Olivia judges her openly. On her first day, Olivia reprimands her. “Too much cleavage,” she says derisively. Stephen Finch (Henry Ian Cusack) is the suave, skirt chaser of the crew. Cusick, fresh from his scruffy stint in Lost, is clean-shaven, and unreasonably handsome. Despite getting minimal clues about Olivia Quinn, Stephen, and President Grant, the rest of the crew hasn’t been able to shine quite yet. Harrison Wright (Columbus Short), Abby Whelan (Darby Stanchfield), and Huck (Guillermo Diaz), are a bunch of background noise.
With each new scandal, it gets harder to figure out what the team is actually doing to keep the secrets. Their tangled relationships are a helluva lot more intriguing than whatever the politicians are up to. The political stuff, like Supreme Court nominees having a hooker secret, is a bit over-the-top and ridiculous. And what makes Olivia tick? There’s got to be more in it than money. Whatever it is, her speeches aren’t as honourable as she’ll have her employees believe. At least the president knows his own villainy. Olivia can’t or won’t see her mistakes. Not to mention, it isn’t easy to root for politicians in this day and age, and none of the show’s twists are surprising.
So far, Scandal’s first season is a short seven episodes, so for now, it’s easier to get into. The show has the propensity for including strong women. They’re tough, but there aren’t any layers to them yet. They’re good at their jobs, Olivia especially, but glimpses of their personal lives are non-existent. Nothing is known yet about their families, their strengths and weaknesses, professional triumphs. You get the sense from a lot of Shonda Rhimes’s work, that some women can’t have it all.