Scandal: Season 1

Open any newspaper or magazine, turn on any news program on TV or the web and you are certain to see items concerning the rich and powerful. What most do not realize is there are groups and individuals who expend considerable financial resources and other means at their disposal to stay out of the headlines and largely unknown to the general public. I’m not referring to some shadow government or cabal or wealthy powerbrokers. The people I’m referring to are the ones that act behind the scenes pulling strings to help guide the stories that make up the news cycles. These are the spin doctors, the experts in crisis management fir the ones holding the actual power and authority. When a politician has an affair that is about to become public knowledge or the child of an influential businessman is apprehended with drugs or an underage girl the spin doctors go to work, quietly, unseen by most to make sure the damage is illuminated or at least contained. They do exist even though not much is ever revealed about them and one factor intrinsic to their function makes them exceptionally dangerous to the men in power, they know where the skeletons are buried largely because they placed them there. There have been many shows directly about the powerful and a few may have alluded to these spin doctors but know the bastions of ‘the truth is what I say it is’ has been given center stage on a politically motivated television series, ‘Scandal’. The initial season was a mid season replacement so it consisted of only seven episodes. In a way this worked out to its advantage, this was enough episodes to tell an intriguing story of lust, corruption and mystery but short enough that the writers could not be permitted the luxury of heaping too many distracting side plots into the mix. This first season is tightly crafted and to the point. The back stories of the central cast are for the most part alluded to but remain cloaked in shadowy mystery. At the end of the seven episodes you feel that portion of the story was told but it left you hungry for more. Thankfully ABC has renewed ‘Scandal’ for a sophomore year.

Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) is one of the best crisis management specialists on the globe. She has built a career protecting the reputations of the ones in the public spotlight, the policy makers and power brokers. Recently Pope served as the White house Director of Communications for the incumbent President, Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn) but has left his service to form her own specialty firm, Olivia Pope and Associates. Although most of her team members are lawyers it is rare for them to appear in open court on behalf of their clients. In a series like this exposition is critical to capturing the audience but is frequently presented in such a way as to drag the pacing of the show losing viewers before the series can establish itself. Fortunately, the show runner here, Shonda Rhimes, is an experienced and successful story teller with enduring hits, ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and its spinoff, ‘Private Practice’ under her belt. She avoids the usual back story pitfalls by following a new associate of Ms Pope, Quinn Perkins (Katie Lowes), relatively new to the legal profession and curious as to why she was selected to work for ‘the’ Olivia Pope. Her point of view provides an organic means of introducing the central cast and circumstances surrounding the firm while still retaining interest. There is no question that Pope is in charge; the associates operate within the boundaries she sets, without question. Pope demands and receives unquestioned loyalty from her team. The team consists of a successful former litigator, Harrison Wright (Columbus Short), extremely resourceful investigator, Abby Whelan (Darby Stanchfield), strategist Stephen Finch (Henry Ian Cusick), a flagrant womanizer looking to change his ways and the grungy, enigmatic Huck Finn (Guillermo Díaz) with a past shrouded in non existence that can only be arranged by someone with a past involvement in the black ops section of the CIA. They are headquartered in a non-descript loft off the beaten track of the Washington Beltway. When a case comes in and is sanctioned by Pope the associates mobilize covering a large window with all the pictures and data necessary to precede.

The general construction of each individual episode follows a proven formula. There is an underlying thread that permeates the entire season progressing in carefully metered details released during an episode. The episode is primarily concerned with a new case that is mostly contained and resolved in that episode. This kind of presentation nicely balances the long game scenario with the immediate satisfaction of a weekly dilemma. The main case is one involving a young woman, Amanda Tanner (Liza Weil) who had an affair with President Grant. It is revealed that Pope believes her since she had been in the same position and her affair with Grant contributed to her decision to form her own firm. Her White House friends including the Chief of Staff Cyrus Beene (Jeff Perry), the President’s Chief of Staff. The sudden exclusion of Pope from the workings of the administration raises suspicions with the First Lady, Mellie Grant (Bellamy Young). Typical of a series created by Ms Rhimes she pushes the envelope of what is conventionally accepted by broadcast television. Grant’s Vice President is a woman, Sally Langston (Kate Burton) and his chief of Staff is openly gay with a husband.

The episodic cases demonstrate a broad variety of subjects. They include the wife of a dictator who wants to leave her genocidal husband while taking their son to a notorious Madam in the Washington DC area whose client lists include many powerful people including Wright. In this case and many others there is usually a heated disagreement between Wright and Whelan. This helps to provide some interesting threads and insight to the personalities of the main characters. The series is immediately captivating pulling the audience in. the show is one of the freshest concepts to hit broadcast television in quite awhile and is poised to continue developing.

Posted 05/05/12

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