Scandal-Episode 1: Sweet Baby

So we open on what the Queen believes to be Capitol Hill. A young professional comes into a bar looking for her blind date. After a rapid fire Joseph L. Mankiewicz-style dialogue, we find out that her “date” is actually an employee of Olivia Pope–someone who is awe-inspiring enough to start mysterious music playing, and to cause this young woman to stop breathing. The man offers her a job and she readily accepts.

Cut to a warehouse somewhere in Georgetown. A stylish, African-American woman in a white coat is entering a freight elevator with a nervous man. He is apparently about to propose to his girlfriend. As the elevator comes to a stop we find out that a dangerous deal is about to go down. Two Ukrainian mobsters are waiting for a payment of six million dollars in exchange for a package. The stylish woman cooly and calmly tells the men that they will only get three million. After another rapid-fire monologue (in which Shonda shows her lack of knowledge of DC traffic), the mobsters take the money, the woman takes a large cardboard file box. Leaving the building, the stylish woman’s companion gleefully exclaims:”God, I love this job!”

We find out that the stylish woman is Olivia Pope: a high powered lawyer who’s not a lawyer. She “fixes” things for high profile clients…such as the Russian Ambassador who it turns out has hired Olivia to broker the return of his kidnapped baby from the Ukrainian mobsters. No time to congratulate or pat each other on the back. One of the associates hollers “Incoming!” as a bloody man staggers in, “You have to help me. Somebody has to help me…Please!” It turns out that the man is a highly decorated war hero whose fiance has just been killed, and the police think he did it. So far, everyone in this episode is “highly” something.

And this is only the first six minutes.

So begins Scandal–the latest project of Shonda Rhimes, the prolific producer/writer of such television shows as Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice. It’s also the first drama to revolve around a black woman in 37 years. Of course the Queen wants it to do well. It is an ambitious project with enough intrigue to make for a fun guilty pleasure. But there are flaws which should be on Olivia’s short list of things to “fix.”

Far be it from me to second guess a storyteller of Ms. Rhimes’ magnitude. However, for the Queen there is so much information to take in. To hook this particular viewer, it would have been a lot more engaging had the introduction of characters been a bit more nuanced and spread over a few episodes. A gifted writer, Shonda offers a lot of information in dialogue that allows the viewer to follow her clues. In Olivia’s interrogation of the war hero, Ms. Rhimes has his character utter a line which will be repeated several times throughout the episode. After the Queen heard him say it the second time I knew where this was headed. Similarly, Olivia has a phrase: “My gut tells me everything I need to know.”, which figures heavily in the plot. However sometimes the writing and directing not so subtly telegraph relationship and plot twists which don’t intrigue as much as confirm in a way that alleviates the need to see more.

After segments which are heavily peppered with CSI-like forensics scenes and fast paced dialogue which show Olivia’s power and influence; we meet the current President of the United States. He needs her help. It turns out that a White House aide is claiming an affair with the President (a la Monica Lewinsky). After conferring with him at Camp David (and tons of dialogue pregnant with subtext), her “gut” says that the Commander In Chief is telling the truth and she takes the case. What ensues is a series of somewhat surprising plot twists which show that no one is what they seem–not even Olivia. Again I am torn between admiration for the way Ms. Rhimes hits a lot of potential viewers over the head with blatant monologues that clearly outline character motives, and a longing for a little more sophistication in how certain things get revealed. I know there is a delicate balancing act between drawing in viewers of all types, yet not alienating those who are oxymoronically looking for a little more art in their commercial tv.

After talking with Olivia, and through television’s uncanny ability to solve any crisis in 45 minutes or less (including our war hero coming to terms with issues that take most of us years and tens of thousands of dollars in therapy to deal with), the strings of cases are tied shut. And the President is now dealing with a woman scorned.

The production values are good, and the show is shot with that de-saturated, film noire-kind of look which makes it feel a little gritty–kind of like the circumstances these high-profile clients find themselves in. However the Queen is vexed as always with the liberties shows and movies take in featuring our Nation’s Capital. For you Miss Things that may not have visited Chocolate City: there is no Museum located in Union Station; and anyone trying to catch an International flight from Dulles better leave themselves a lot more than two-and-a-half hours to make it. However there is much to like. Including the fact that if the show lasts, I may dust off my SAG and AFTRA cards and see if they are casting for any Fierce Black DC Queens. Stay tuned.

Did any of you Miss Things watch? What did you think?


13 thoughts on “Scandal-Episode 1: Sweet Baby

  1. Shoot, forgot to set the DVR…but will watch it online tonight. Sounds, from your recap, like it’s got the potential to do well and stick around for awhile.

    I know what you mean about cramming too much info in the first episode, though. I’ve had other series almost ruined (as in, I considered not watching past the first episode) for that reason. But, more often than not, was glad I gave it a chance. Hopefully that’ll be the case with this, too.

    • Hopefully that’s going to be the case. The pilot seems to have gotten mixed reviews, but by and large the critics seem to agree that there’s enough substance there to give it a shot.

      • So I watched it, and am left with mixed feelings. I see what you mean about the quick-fire style. A lot thrown at us, leaving little room for things like character development. It is the first episode, so hopefully things will pan out. They did give hints of character back-stories (like the redhead silently pining for the guy getting engaged).

        And the two “gotcha” moments…I found these annoying. I’ll hold off explaining further, as someone may be reading who has not yet seen the show, but plans to. I just think they played on worn and damaging stereotypes.

        I was happy to see one of my favorite actors, though (Guillermo Díaz).

      • Mary said
        “They did give hints of character back-stories (like the redhead silently pining for the guy getting engaged)”

        lol, that was the very relationship I was referring to in the post :). Between the writing and the directing, that back-story was made quite clear. The problem is that I don’t know enough about her to really care that she is pining over this guy. If Rhimes had told us more about her character, and endeared her to us, then maybe I’d care. As of now it is simply an objective character point. Maybe that’s what was intended.

        Guillermo Díaz: WOOF!

  2. Okay, I’m intrigued. I’ll have to check this out. It sounds like it’ll be a good workout for my attention span which has been getting pretty flabby of late (I’ve had such a disappearing keys thing going on lately. I’m gonna put it down to spring fever…). And that would be awesome if your SAG and AFTRA cards saw some action out of it!

    • It’s an interesting concept. If you like Grey’s…, it’s got the same kind of rapid-fire pace and sensibility. But not a doctor in sight. Unless you consider Spin Doctors…doctors.

      As for the acting part: I haven’t done very much serious professional acting in about five years since I’ve been getting work as a director. But it might be fun if I could manage more than a walk-on. I’ll have to look into their shooting schedule in DC. I don’t know where they’re filming, but if it’s LA then they might have already done their exterior shots in Washington.

      • Well, interestingly, I’ve never watched Gray’s Anatomy…until today, when I kind of accidentally ended up watching part of an episode when it came on after something else I was watching (I was having one of those lazy couch-potato days). And it was this episode where there was this whole mass murder thing happening at the hospital, which I couldn’t help but feel was the show’s jump-the-shark moment. (Am I right about that?) But then I tend to get inpatient with how often television/movies portray these psycho-killer types in sort of a crude and cheesy way. They almost never get the psychology right, but instead kind of drum up this cartoon psychopath that really doesn’t behave the way an honest-to-goodness psychopath does.

        But hopefully if Scandal takes off, we’ve got a few years before we have to hear, “There is a shooter loose in the building!”

      • @mefein1

        Oddly enough that episode is considered by some critics to be a “rebirth” or watershed moment for the series. Last season it got it’s “second breath” so to speak–and the gunman plot was one of the reasons.

        I’m kind of biased about Grey’s Anatomy. I think it has one of the best ensemble casts in television I thought it was one of the better episodes of the series for two reasons: the first, because the plot was developed over several episodes. The gunman was a grieving widower who blamed a doctor for his wife’s death. And even though we’d been introduced to him previously–you never saw it coming. I thought that was brilliant. Second, since it really was about how the hospital handled the event, we got to see people that we had come to know and care about having to deal with the most horrendous of events–including the deaths of regular cast members. I was actually on the edge of my seat through the whole thing. Also, the story line wasn’t dropped immediately after the episode was over. Some cast members are still dealing with the impact of the event almost a year later. I pray that Rhimes brings the same sensibilities to Scandal

      • LOL, well that shows you just how out of touch with the show I am. So of course that made it the absolute wrong episode to watch because I knew nothing at ALL about any of the characters or what they were going through (other than Patrick Dempsey and Sandra Oh I didn’t even now who the regular cast members were) so that left me free to obsess about things like why the hell was the SWAT team taking so long. Without being invested in the characters, it just wasn’t going to work.

  3. Ahh, but if my (it’s been almost a decade) memory serves, Dulles is so much more *photogenic* than the former Washington National.

    Sounds watchable.

    Kerry Washington was very likable and a more interesting than a lot of actors in an interview NPR did with her that aired yesterday. [Who does the booking at NPR? When did they join the various shows at which celebs sell their latest movie?]

    • Absolutely agree. However this particular gaffe had to do with distance. In her monologue with the Ukrainians, she advised them to catch an International flight from Dulles which leaves in two-and-a-half hours. That is virtually impossible leaving from Georgetown depending on the time of day. Even though it’s really easy to get to the Dulles Toll Road from there, and the scene takes place in the evening–between getting there and checking in you’d be really pressed for time.

      I’m such a DC Geek.

      I’ll have to look for that interview on NPR’s website. Washington is definitely an articulate sort. I’m still not sure she’s got the acting chops to make this character nuanced enough. And with what Olivia Pope is about to go through, nuance is imperative to keep her from becoming a cliche.

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