Sunday 16 April 2017

One for the Dog: Scandal by Shonda Rhimes

There used to be a joke about the god of Christianity: "And she's black." In a white male world this was considered unthinkable, and at one time the notion of a female African American television showrunner would have been equally extraordinary. But now Shonda Rhimes is one of the most potent and brilliant talents working in US TV.

Rhimes created Grey's Anatomy, which was a huge hit, and which I followed myself for a year or so before finally concluding that it was the My Little Pony of medical dramas. It's still a considerable success, in its 13th season (seven seasons are usually the maximum).

More importantly, Shonda Rhimes went on to develop other hit TV shows, and currently has four on the air: Grey's Anatomy, The Catch, How to Get Away with Murder...

And Scandal. I have to thank my friend Celeste for turning me on to Scandal. It was the double punch of Celeste's praise and the discovery a cheap boxed set of the first three seasons that got me watching this show after a long period of neglecting American television dramas.

Scandal is simply amazing. Essentially it's the story of a fixer — a lawyer who solves problems and makes deals, generally operating behind the scenes, rather than practising standard case law and going into court.

If you want a quick — and brilliant — introduction into the way a fixer operates, then watch the wonderful film Michael Clayton, starring George Clooney and written and directed by Tony Gilroy. Scandal bears a fleeting resemblance to Michael Clayton, but rapidly moves into even darker and more troubled territory.

It has a Washington setting and politics are its meat and drink — both of them often poisoned. The central emotional engine of the series (so far; I'm still watching Season 2) is the fact that Olivia Pope (our fixer-in-chief, played by Kerry Washington) has had an affair with the new Republican president Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn) and they are still deeply involved with each other.

Pope's firm is the usual crew of interesting and diverse characters — or at least, it first seems that way. But then it rapidly becomes clear that there's nothing "usual" about resident hacker and computer nerd Huck (Guillermo Díaz). He is ex-CIA black ops, and is the show's device for getting us into some extraordinary, and disturbing stories.

In short, Scandal is less like The West Wing and more like the Manchurian Candidate. I'm finding it riveting drama and I commend it to you. It starts off looking like a glossy, frothy soap (making great use of popular songs by the likes of Stevie Wonder and the Staples Singers) but soon turns out to be amazingly hard-hitting and daringly extreme.

Oh and in case there's any confusion about the title for this post, it quotes a memorable piece of dialogue from Series 2, listing how many bullets one of our heroes is going to put into an adversary, and why.

(Image credits: Good old Imp Awards. It turns out they do TV posters, too.)


  1. Hmm. After two or three episodes, I'd dismissed it as "a glossy, frothy soap." There are many things I'd want to watch before it, but I might need to revisit "Scandal" in the future.

  2. I understand your reaction completely, but I had a friend who told me it got great and she was right. It's so true there's too much to watch, but there's so much more to Scandal -- and I'm hooked!

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