Shonda Rhimes’ new ABC drama Scandal is a juicy, fast-paced addition to Thursday nights. Kerry Washington ably anchors the show—a creation that is one of a handful of shows since Dihann Carroll’s Julia was on the air in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, that a black woman has been the lead on a network series. (The other shows are NBC’s Undercovers starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw and arguably–though it’s more of an ensemble cast–Southland with Regina King before it jumped to TNT after only a few episodes. )
Washington stars as Olivia Pope, a highly accomplished, respected and impeccably dressed “fixer” for Washington DC’s elite crowd. Olivia’s character is inspired by Judy Smith, co-executive producer of the show and a woman who has represented big names in even bigger scandals in the past 20 years, including Monica Lewinsky, Michael Vick and BP after the oil spill in the Gulf.
Scandal’s first episode alone touches on everything from kidnapping to murder to a presidential affair or two. Lawyers by trade, Olivia and her crew are not so much a law firm as they are a rouge group of problem solvers who do pretty much anything to make their clients’ problems disappear.
Harrison Wright, played beautifully by Columbus Short, introduces the viewers and new Pope associate Quinn Rielly (Katie Lowes) to Olivia’s shop with a mouthful of zingy one-liners. It’s refreshing to have “I’m a gladiator in a suit” as the line of the moment as opposed to “You ain’t about this life,” “You’re a non-mothaf*@kin’ factor” or the other jewels of wisdom we get from the “wives” reality shows.
The entire episode moves at a break-neck pace that West Wing fans will appreciate. The clipped, casual but methodic dialogue and actions thrust viewers into the Olivia Pope world. A glance, a smile or a gesture are all we need to get information on who’s slept with whom, who’d like to sleep with whom and who has dark secrets yet to be revealed.
When President Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn) stands a tad too close to Olivia while discussing a potential scandal (hee hee) and he says “You know I’m only in love with one woman,” you get the sneaking suspicion that he’s not talking about his wife. Fast forward a few scenes and turns out your gut is right.
Eyes brimming with tears, Olivia mutters out “Sweet baby?’ in the middle of the oval office, hurt and confused by the president’s affair with a young aide. All this time she thought “sweet baby” was a special nickname the married president had reserved just for her back when they still had a thing. Apparently, Olivia is the one who walked away from the affair.
That doesn’t stop a long passionate kiss from happening though, maybe or maybe not in view of the oval office cameras, but definitely in front of presidential confidante Cyrus (Jeff Perry).
And there lies what might become an issue for certain sections of the blogosphere. President Grant and his wife are white. Olivia is black. Undoubtedly some will do a devastated wall-slide that Olivia is not with a black man and is instead forced to be da man’s side piece. Whatevs. This affair seems less about race than it is about two people who had (have?) a lack of respect for marriage vows. Sometimes race, even in an interracial relationship, is not the issue folks. Could Rhimes and crew have paired Olivia off in a stable, drama-free relationship? Sure, but this is a drama, so what better place to put moral indiscretion than at the center of the main character’s love life?
The first episode tied some neat-ish bows on the ends of a couple storylines, but not in an intelligence insulting, Scooby-Doo sort of way. Looks as if Olivia’s cases will mostly be handled in the span of 60 minutes, but her secret-filled personal life will unfold each week, as will the backstories of her staff.
Overall, I was impressed with the show and I look forward to the character development and maybe even some exciting Law and Order-esque cameos from well-known actors.
Will you be tuning in? What did you think of the first episode?
Oh and if you missed the first episode you can watch it here.