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?