Scandal: Soapier Than Expected

Scandal S01E01: "Sweet Baby"


Based on the promos, I sat down to watch Scandal with the same level of excitement people generally reserve for cleaning out their oven. I cannot bear procedurals, imaginary politics bore me, and lawyer shows make my head hurt. So I was not a friendly audience at the start of last night's series premiere. And the first half-hour fit the procedural formula and tone. Consider the opening gambit where Quinn (Katie Lowes) got recruited in a bar to join Olivia Pope's (Kerry Washington) team: SO much banter. The kind of banter that comes from one sharp writer writing two sharp characters who speak with the exact same voice. Crackly. Quinn was swept into the elegant alternative office space of the Olivia Pope crisis center, where beautiful lawyers work ceaselessly to right the wrongs of their clients. Including international baby snatching.

Olivia Pope, peripheral characters explained, is a legend in her own time, despite looking all of 27 years old. She's BFFs with the president, she can manipulate the press, and she's not just a genius lawyer, she looks skinny in a white trench coat. (I defy you to try and look skinny in a white trench.)

These people don’t have to follow the rules! They are gladiators in suits! There are lots of blurry items in front of the camera to give the show a glossy look! Seriously, there is a lot of this show you just can’t see:

My first clue that this was no super clever, detail-oriented series came when Olivia explained how she decides whether or not to take a client and lend the person her unconditional support: She trusts her gut. Not her brain, her gut. That is the bedrock of the show: This group of high-powered lawyers is free of any law or morality save Olivia Pope’s unerring instinct.

Sorry, but trusting your "gut" is terrible reasoning. (And, need I add, lazy writing.) Studies show again and again that even trained professionals can rarely tell when other people are lying. For example, steady eye contact? Not a good indicator. Being steady and calm when denying guilt? Tell-tale sign of a sociopath. In fact, usually people who are telling the truth when accused of something will act a hell of a lot more embarrassed, flustered, and scared than those who know their escape from justice depends on their performance. So when the incredible, vaunted Olivia Pope explained her claim to fame is her spot-on hunches, I got my own hunch not to expect any of the little clues and intricate storytelling of say, Sherlock Holmes the UK series.

The conceit that taking on problematic clients and breaking the law to protect them is based on woman’s intuition seemed like story spackle, but even thickest industrial-strength hole-filler couldn't prevent the full-scale disintegration that ensued as the episode spun off its procedural track and just started following Olivia around. She forced a colleague to pick from an exquisite array of about 12 diamond engagement rings and also checked in with a hunky president at Martha's Vineyard.

The president needed Pope back on his team! If not, could she at least take care of a pesky Monica Lewinsky-type underling who was claiming they were LOVAHS? Of course she could.

Well, actually she couldn't. Sure, Pope threatened the girl while she was walking her dog and then, natch, the girl almost killed herself. And in the hospital revealed to Pope that the president called her "sweet baby." With this revelation, the last vestige of professionalism drained from Pope's persona and the world of the show spun into Dynasty territory.

I mean, a steamy makeout session between Pope and the president in the OVAL OFFICE!?! It was at that moment that my pen and paper slid to the floor and I realized I did not need to take any more notes. Scandal got into the TV party by claiming to be a legal procedural with upper notes of The West Wing. But in the third act, it dissolved into the most steamy, indulgent drama I've seen since Revenge. That is not a complaint! Pope's tête-á-tête with the president was kind of intense and made my knees weak. Sure, she looked like an idiot for trusting him, and the president character is definitely a skeeze—but the actor (Tony Goldwyn) is charismatic, and Kerry Washington is brilliant enough that I'd tune in again next week in hopes of another illicit conversation between these two.

Which is practically guaranteed, since the episode closed with Pope telling presidential handler Mr. Kramitiski that she is taking on the jilted aide as a client. Nice!

Also nice: The episode went out of its way to explain that Scandal is not going to follow every client’s story to its full conclusion. Whoever actually killed the attractive dead girl earlier: NOT OUR PROBLEM. And the blood-spattered war hero who wandered into Pope's office after the police seemed about to charge him with the girl’s murder? His case was settled by Pope talking to him about who he should love. (And, also, his alibi was easily established by security camera footage of him kissing his boyfriend in full view of a security camera. That’s right, a nationally known, fiercely closeted conservative war hero who would rather be arrested for murder than come out made out with his boyfriend on a street corner. RIGHT. With cases this easy, it's no wonder Pope spends most of her time matchmaking.)

Maybe future episodes will drift out of the soap world and back into the procedural, but considering how ham-fistedly the writers handled the first real case, I don't think that side of it is their focus. I look forward this seeing Scandal become a presidential telenovela. Shonda, please deliver!


QUESTIONS:

– What did you think of the premiere?

– Will you watch Episode 2?

Comments (25)
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Loved it!
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I liked it definitely will watch more
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episode 2 is already on hulu

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Camp David is not on the The Vineyard. Its in Catoctin Mountain Park
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I liked it, perhaps because it was so soapy, indeed. What else can you expect with Shonda Rhimes? I started to dislike Grey's violently after three seasons when it became all too ridiculous and Off The Map was pretty much horrible from the first second, so still, I probably won't go further than the season finale, but for now it is entertaining.
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Missed the episode last night so watched it on ABC's website, and discovered the second episode for next week was posted already too. Yay! I enjoyed both episodes. Since I actually really like procedurals AND soapy dramas, so far I find Scandal to be a good mix of both worlds. Hope it stays this good!
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Knowing that the Grey's Anatomy creator made this pretty much told me what to expect. The affair with the President was ridiculous, but it's a fair show overall. Shondra's characters and their thesis rants have always nagged at me, and I'm not sold on these characters being as badass as they're...being sold, but I'll be back for episode two. I hope the show's good, and I hope the show does well, but I dropped Off the Map after episode two.



Good seeing Desmond again, brother.
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I actually was pretty entertained by this show!

Yeah it had lots to poke at, but its a better version of House of Lies.

I especially loved the 'Gladiators in Suits' line from the first scene in the bar.

The idea of the'legend of Olivia Pope' was kinda irritating and not very believable.

BUT that said I see no deal breakers. And the writing dialogue is top notch, So yeah I'll be back.
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I loved this show too, but you're spot on with poking all the holes in it. "Suspension of disbelief" to a whole new level. What I really liked, which wasn't procedural at all, is the subtle theme (only subtle in this pilot) that while Pope fixes everyone else's problems, she and her associates are complete messes.



There were a few of over-obvious memes that I rolled my eyes at: a president who's shady, a strident conservative with a secret life, an associate with a secret yearning for another associate. But at least these were well done examples of overused devices.



I'll at least check out the next few episodes.
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I love that this review is super negative AND super positive. It sounds exactly like a show I might love.
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Great review Lily. But this is way too soapy for me. Couldn't make it past the first half hour.
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for your information, Kerry Washington who plays Olivia Pope is 35 years old....
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And it really helps if you wear a belt =)
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Entertaining and smart writing as usual, Lily. And thanks for the review. I was thinking of watching this show. Looks like I dodged a bullet there. It's sad cr@p like this will thrive while Awake is threatened of being canceled.
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The show was not crap. It was quite entertaining, I haven't made up my mind about it, but the intro grabbed me, so I stuck around and will definitely check it out a few more episodes.

Awake has a good premise, but follows the basic cop procedural. I always plan to watch, but forget. It needs something more compelling than the basic cop drama to make people want to come back, the 2 realities are not enough, especially if one is not real. It's beginning to look like another Life on Mars (US version) - very disappointing.
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Well, based on this review I'll stay away from Scandal. A "presidential soap" as described would be painful to endure. But if you liked it, I'm happy for you.



As for Awake, considering the story might all be happening in the guy's head, it goes way beyond the procedural if you look beyond the surface, especially considering this week's episode.



And to me Awake is beginning to look much more like Life On Mars UK than US, because the walls of reality are crumbling on the protagonist, while in the American version the guy was essentially having a good time.



But I agree the American LOM was a disappointment.
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I plan to catch up on Awake (good to know some progress has been made). But I disagree with the label (so far) that Scandal is a presidential soap. Just check out the intro, I thought the writing was smart.
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Good lord why base anything on what a 'tv critic' or any critic for that matter has to say about a show? Give it a try and make up your own mind.

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I have made up my mind. That's also what TV critiques are for.
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I think the biggest problem with Awake is the son (not the son's universe or the actor). It is just that the writing for the father son relationship is kind of all over the place it seems. Granted, I am sure if I was a teenager and tragically lost my mother my relationship with my father might be just as schizophrenic, but it's paced is this really odd manner. It's like the son relearns that he loves his father EVERY EPISODE and forgets in between so another tense father son misunderstanding moment can occur. Honestly, if they stopped doing that the show would be infinitely better.
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You've got a point there. But then I've never understood teenagers...
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You know who also trusts their gut? Jethro Gibbs =p



Anywho, the previews really made this show seem like something completely different. I was expecting something like West Wing meets Leverage meets Boston Legal. I guess I'll watch the standard 5 and make another judgement then.
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LOL! I loved it. For various reasons. I have an eclectic taste in tv shows so I love a good legal show and or procedural and the entire crisis management emphasis gave me a little thrill because it wouldn't be your standard legal show. I loved how fast pace it was. I loved the neverending wit. It fits the mood.



I loved that the characters were fully developed characters and we got that in the first few minutes let alone in the pilot. I feel like I know just enough about them to be interested but not enough to feel like there is no room for development. That is truly hard for most shows to do in their first season alone let alone in the very first episode. I got a feel for everyone. Olivia the no nonsense Type A, independent strong woman who isn't afraid to be ruthless but deep down has a heart and can just as easily be shattered despite her tough exterior. Stephen...the smarmy playboy, also ruthless and arrogant but his arrogance masks his insecurities and fear of inadequacy. Implied long history and deep friendship riddled with mutual respect and understanding between him and Pope. Abby (the girl who had me drawn from her first word!), the youthful trailblazer with no verbal filter. She does't sugarcoat, direct, gets straight to the point, says what she means and means what she says and stops at nothing to get what she wants. But has that softer side as evident in the subtle crush that she has on Steven. Quinn...untainted newbie...wet behind the ears, appears to be a bit of a pushover but she knows when to stand her ground. She'll most likely be the moral compass of the show, with her do-goodness, lack of being jaded, and rallying for justice, and she'll be the one to reign the others in and keep them honest. She seems meek on the surface but has a well concealed fire that is probably behind her being chosen anyways. Harrison..another arrogant alpha male, with a quieter strengh, will most likely act as mentor to Quinn, and will be the one character that's always veiled in some sort of mystery. And the CIA hacker...the quiet, super intelligent one. Man of few words, another also wrapped in mystery with an interesting story to be told as to why he ended up working with Pope to begin with.



I love that they are laser focused on what they do and their idea of getting the job done doesn't actually offer the audience a sense of finality and/or a conclusion. It isn't wrapped up in a pretty little bow. It isn't nicey nice...and it isn't solely about politics. The drama added in with the complex relationship between Olivia and the Prez (which was....super hot that Oval Office scene...it surprised me and sort of left me a bit breathless there because of it's unexpected intensity) adds that personal element that Shonda does so well. Their ruthless methods make for a grittiness and edginess that is sometimes lacking these days. The cases are great. I was taken on a whole emotional rollercoaster watching Sully from beginning to end...just sad. The same goes for the poor little intern.Because of all of this the show will have an edge.



I agree that it isn't the type of show that you'd enjoy if you analyze to pieces...because there is so much that the audience is forced to ignore, suspend belief with, and blindly accept. I think the emphasis on Olivia's gut was a bit too much, as was the gladiator spiel. they didn't need to spell it out so often. And they didn't need to beat us over the head with the fact that she's a badass, who defies the laws of...everything from actual laws to whizzing through DC traffic and appearing in ten places at once. I felt like that was overkill too. She's a BAMF...we get it. I am woman...hear me roar....men and women alike want to be her. Other than that I truly did love the show and I will keep watching it.



Also...the cast is amazing. Kerry Washington...kudos to her, I seen a bit of an interview and I believe she's the first black female leading role in a tv show on NETWORK tv in like thirty years. That's huge...and yet the fact that most people didn't notice means that the show did as any show should and just reached a universal audience w/o that even being an issue. Which makes me love and and want to support it even more. I always love how Shonda Rhimes has a way of breaking barriers w/o the masses thinking twice about it. Dammit I have to work on condensing.
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Olivia Pope seems to be even less professional than Emma from OUaT, and that's saying something...

But I think I'll give it another chance.
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But Olivia has soooooooo much better hair.
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