By Curt Wagner
4:11 PM PDT, April 4, 2012
ABC's new drama "Scandal" is silly, but entertaining.
Over my viewing of three episodes, I smirked and rolled my eyes, laughed (not because something was meant to be funny) and mumbled, "I won't be watching this show again." I also chuckled at some genuinely funny dialogue, felt a little tug at the heartstrings and, toward the end of every episode, decided I just had to see what was happening next.
"Scandal" (9 p.m. April 5, ABC; 2.5 stars) comes from "Grey's Anatomy" and "Private Practice" executive producer Shonda Rhimes, and like those shows it exists in its own little reality that often stretches credibility. It has a glossy sheen, rapid-fire banter and pretty people who are appealing and believable in their roles. It's what Rhimes has them doing that is sometimes far-fetched.
Kerry Washington stars as Olivia Pope, a Washington, D.C., "fixer" who inspires guard-dog loyalty among her employees and fear from the people with whom she clashes. Before setting up her own crisis management firm, Olivia helped get President Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn) elected and served for a time as his communications director.
In the premiere, Olivia sends one of her lawyers, suave Harrison Wright (Columbus Short), to hire a new member of her team, Quinn Perkins (Katie Lowes), that also includes lawyer Stephen Finch (Henry Ian Cusick), investigator Abby Whelan (Darby Stanchfield) and tech guy Huck (Guillermo Diaz).
Harrison tells Quinn that lawyers who work for Olivia are "gladiators in suits," and that Olivia "isn't a good guy; she's the best guy."
I have an issue with that line and many, many, many like it. Rhimes sets up Olivia a fast-talking, decisive crusader with a strong sense of right and wrong. And Washington is up to the task, showing viewers Olivia's moxie that Rhimes constantly tells us she has. Yet Rhimes undermines the character when Olivia breaks her own strict moral code over a guy. (Not saying who; spoiler!) Olivia repeatedly says, "I trust my gut," and that it's never wrong. Until it is, which makes all those earlier "gut" boasts seem like wasted lines.
Maybe love does make you do strange things, but not Olivia! (At least not Olivia as she has been written here.)
These types of romantic entanglements and emotional reactions, however, are part of the formula Rhimes has been so successful using on "Grey's Anatomy." "Scandal" is full of her familiar hairpin plot twists, moralizing and boomerang character reveals. Is that a bad thing, though, when it makes the proceedings so fun?
Each week Olivia and her team take on a new case--a decorated soldier with a secret who is accused of murder; a D.C. madam with a troubling client list; a mogul's spoiled son accused of rape--while Olivia continues to work with and against her old boss in the White House and the president's closest adviser, Cyrus Beene (Jeff Perry).
The White House stuff is the silliest. No matter how fast these people bark their lines, "The West Wing" this is not. But it is "Scandal," and that title clues you in to exactly what you're getting: a tantalizingly juicy soap opera.
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