Late to the party by even midseason replacement standards, ABC’s glitteringly high-concept, dazzlingly lowbrow, political intrigue procedural clocks in at a lean seven episodes. It’s a miniseries rather than a full season. Good thing, too, as any longer in the company of characters as insufferable, as impossibly self-inflated, and as downright self-satisfied as this lot would have even the most patient primetime aficionado reaching for the sharp edges of his or her TV dinner tray.
Kerry Washington stars as Olivia Pope, former a former White House insider who now heads up Olivia Pope Associates. Not your typical law firm, the company specializes in crisis management – making problems “go away” quickly, quietly, and, most important of all, away from the prying eyes of those who would seek to create a scandal (get it?).
From the pen of Grey’s Anatomy head honcho, Shonda Rhimes, Scandal features many of the former’s oratorical floweriness, which either delights or infuriates depending on your taste. While it does settle down once some semblance of a plot creeps in (case of the week type stuff, mostly), the pilot has clearly been worked on to within and inch of its life, both in front of and behind the camera; overwritten, over-rehearsed, over-delivered.
It’s not to say that we aren’t over the moon to see a primetime show on a major network anchored by a black woman, just that we find ourselves questioning why Olivia has to be seen to come across like such a cold-hearted shit? Although, there is a case to be made that anyone who has such a Greek chorus of sycophants scurrying around in her wake would quickly develop a titanic ego.
Scandal is clearly a product of the disillusionment of the general populous directed at the political elite, in a similar way that House of Lies skewered the financial elite. But where that show had a knowing sense of self-deprecation, depicting its principles as hollow hypocrites in pain, Scandal displays no such self-awareness. Rather Olivia and her band of stock characters (the insecure one, the go-getter, the tech-guy with a shady past, the cool-as-ice second in command) are presented as nothing short of the second coming – here to protect us the fragile populous from all that dirty, grubby politicking that taints our otherwise pure democracy.
Operating on an ends-justify-the-means approach, with plotting invariably showing that when totals are tallied at the end of each episode, the scales of justice will tilt in favor of good and right winning out, the show purports to suggest that the rich and powerful do not get all of their way all of the time. What the show isn’t brave enough, or doesn’t care enough about, to confront is that most people don’t want to end the exploitation of the rich and powerful over the masses (if we did we would have done it a long time ago). We just want to become to exploiters.