‘Scandal’ continues to defy expectations of network TV capabilitiesPosted on October 24, 2013 | by Alex Greenberger
In the past season alone, “Scandal” has had more government conspiracies than “Homeland,” and while everyone was busy buzzing about “House of Cards,” they seemed to have forgotten that Kerry Washington’s Olivia Pope, the lawyer-fixer protagonist of “Scandal,” wears the white hat better than Kevin Spacey’s Francis Underwood ever will.
To say all that suggests “Scandal,” a network show, is better than shows on Showtime and Netflix, which isn’t necessarily false. Now progressing through its third season, “Scandal” has continued to prove itself smarter than almost every show on television — it is a marvelous, tense concoction simply because it is so wonderfully unpretentious.
As an ABC show, it masks its intelligence in wry double-entendres and one-liners that get spat out at a speed that could give most Aaron Sorkin characters whiplash. But underneath all that, “Scandal” is a telling meditation on corruption — it shows that greed does not run along party lines and how even the political figures we love have a dark side.
In that sense, “Scandal” is shockingly cynical and differs from other nighttime soaps. “Scandal” is the kind of show where good people get punished constantly — and usually with good reason. In the case of lead character Olivia Pope, who is having an affair with the President of the United States, she absolutely deserves what’s coming to her because what she is doing is obviously wrong.
But somehow, “Scandal” always paints its gladiators as sympathetic people. They may occasionally get on their viewers’ nerves, and they may not always be the most moral human beings, but they sure are likeable. They are likeable antiheroes in a TV climate where having despicable antiheroes is expected.
Shonda Rhimes’ characters on “Scandal” are surprisingly rich in that respect and with “Scandal,” she also continues writing characters that belong to various minorities. In fact, what might be best about “Scandal” is its treatment of these minorities. “Scandal” discusses being black, being a woman and being gay — sometimes all within the same scene — by simply not discussing it. By presenting a wonderful alternate universe where minority characters are treated as equals, the show is even remarkably progressive.
Even when “Scandal” is not trying to flesh out its characters, it still presents a serpentine, fun and soapy yarn. “Scandal’s” twists come fast and hard and once the show gets into its groove — particularly in last season’s “Defiance” arc — it seems as if there is no stopping it. Its lightning-speed pacing and genuinely surprising twists brings the show to some wonky places — sprinkle a government conspiracy here and there and there are bound to be flaws — but often, “Scandal’s” ridiculous approach makes it all the more compelling.
That the show works so well when it goes that insane is a testament to its success. It takes bigger risks than “Homeland” as of late and as an unexpected side effect, it has a better political commentary than “House of Cards.”
“Scandal” is that one network show that does everything a network show shouldn’t do. Can the show sustain itself as it gets even wackier? Ask Shonda Rhimes, and she would probably say the same thing Olivia always says — “It’s handled.”
Alex Greenberger is film editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.