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Scandal: Gorge my Heart Out

Ian Benson

Listen, I love “Breaking Bad” as much as the next guy. It’s well written, acted, directed and plotted. It’s about as perfect as a television show can be, and it is right up there with “The Wire” for the greatest show of all-time. But, “Breaking Bad” isn’t always the most fun show to watch. It’s rough and taxing on the mind. It can leave me in a bad mood. I’ll be sad to see it go, but it’s necessary for my wellbeing. Besides, right after it leaves the other best show on television returns. That’s right, I’m talking about “Scandal.”

“Scandal” airs on ABC. Its lead in is “Grey’s Anatomy,” which I didn’t know was still airing. Network television has become a punch line in recent years, and for good reason. I’ve never met anyone who says they like “Two and Half Men,“ but it’s entering its 11th season. The standard network drama is either a cop show or a medical show. But “Scandal,” a prime time network political drama-soap opera, is a completely different creature.

For those who are unaware, “Scandal” stars Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope, the former White House Communications Director who currently runs a crisis management firm. She spends her days and nights helping powerful people get out of terrible situations. Also (late arrival spoilers) she’s the President’s former (and still occasional) mistress. They’re actually deeply in love. The cast is rounded out with her rag-tag team of former lawbreakers and broken-birds-turned-do-gooders, a magnificently shrewd First Lady, an intrepid Assistant U.S. Attorney, the gay Republican Chief of Staff and his journalist husband.

Olivia, despite all her commitment to doing the right thing and helping good people, is clearly a villain protagonist. The number of lives she’s destroyed is at least in the double digits. She’s deceived some friends and thrown others under the bus. She’s ruthless, and manages to be admirable and frightening in the amount of respect she commands despite this. Every couple of episodes, she’s at least indirectly involved in some horrendous crime and sometimes has her ex-spy, formerly homeless techie genius friend dispose of a body. But you keep rooting for her and President Grant (morally gray himself) to get together because dammit they’re just meant for each other.

It’s easy to write off “Scandal” as being a ‘guilty pleasure’ show. It’s ridiculous to the point where it’s difficult to tell if it’s self-parody or just a knowing wink from the writers. Most characters aren’t all that well rounded and have some level of hero worship towards Olivia that can sometimes be unwarranted. A few plot points are suddenly dropped with no explanation. Every time someone is referred to as a “gladiator in a suit,” I chuckle. But at the same time, it never lets up on the narrative pedal. Voter fraud, assassination attempts, unexpected pregnancies, murder and romantic entanglement all constitute a standard story arc for the series. Olivia is a legitimately strong black female character, and her existence as the lead on the show isn’t used as a gimmick, like it would be in other programs. Most episodes end with a cliff hanger and the shock of some of them make it feel like the show’s writers are competing to get the most audience jaw drops.

Sometimes it’s messy, but sometimes that’s what a show should be. Some get by on technical execution, where everything is thought out and immaculately conducted, and others operate like a club DJ who’s cranked the volume to its legal limit and expects you to dance your way through the manic ride. “Scandal” is the best example of the latter on television.

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