Some TV shows try too hard. Through excessively eccentric writing, over acting and forced drama, they push the boundaries of authenticity a bit too far, never realizing just how over−the−top they actually are. Shonda Rhimes’ latest ABC production, “Scandal,” happens to fit just such a formula and the result is atrocious.
A slight departure from the hospital dramas “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Private Practice” that Rhimes made her name in, “Scandal” follows a crisis management team led by Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) as they dedicate their lives to solving the problems and protecting the secrets of America’s elite. While many describe it as a “political thriller,” the series is more or less a nighttime soap drama, resembling one of Rhimes’ past shows in a political, rather than hospital, setting.
The issues plaguing “Scandal” start with its very premise. Even after the first episode, viewers have almost no idea what Olivia’s “crisis management” team really does. Such a team sounds like it would deal with actual crises, such as disasters or wars, not potential political scandals. In reality, they are a collection of quick−tongued lawyers, void of personal lives and dedicated to their jobs, that seeks to help the “client” at any cost. They proclaim to be the “good guys,” but only take cases as far as needed to clear the client’s name, regardless of what’s truly just and right.
Such a plot doesn’t serve up much for the audience to care about, so the show attempts to force drama down the viewer’s throat in an attempt to raise the stakes. This involves absurd plot twists and exaggerated musical interludes that are so common they become laughable halfway through the pilot. Couple this with the visually irritating flashes of photography used to splice scenes together, and you have an abysmally directed product.
In any work of fiction, a weak plot can always be overlooked, assuming that character development is present. One might cease to care about what actually happens in a story if the characters seem to come alive. But in “Scandal,” this isn’t the case, and in fact the characters do nothing more than detract further from the show.
Headlining the faulty cast is Olivia Pope, a stereotypical “strong woman” type who follows her gut and is depicted as the flawless, perfect heroine. Despite her cold, harsh attitude and the fact that she doesn’t believe she can be wrong, her co−workers hold her to an almost god−like standard and idolize her in an eerie manner. Olivia is arrogant, stubborn and, worst of all, she’s just plain mean. Viewers can’t connect with a protagonist like her — one that struts around as if she were literally the most important person in America. Seeing as she can get an audience with the president in mere minutes — please, take a moment to chuckle — Rhimes clearly meant to depict her in such a fashion.
The bland Huck (Guillermo Diaz) and horribly over−acted Abby Whelan (Darby Stanchfield) only drag down the cast even more. The latter often resembles a middle−school student shooting out her lines on stage. While Stephen Finch (Henry Ian Cusick) and Harrison Wright (Columbus Short) are bright points amidst this dreary production, they aren’t nearly enough to salvage it.
A legitimate question comes to mind while watching the show: Is the poor acting the result of, well, poor acting, or is the hackneyed script the real issue? Every character spits out rapid−fire lines as if they were in “Gilmore Girls” (2000−2007), which reduces the entire cast to a uniform personality that attempts and fails to achieve wittiness. The writing is incredibly sloppy, and is filled with lame jokes that fall flat, awkwardly repetitive lines and an aggressive anti−Republican slant. The short, snappy lines sound as if they were stripped from a soap opera and are melodramatic in such an obvious way that the viewer can’t help but cringe. While a clear answer doesn’t present itself, it is probable that the acting and script are equally tremendously destructive.
As if “Scandal” didn’t have enough problems, it also couldn’t seem to establish an appropriate tone at any point within the pilot episode. The show struggles to find a balance between the clever and the serious, and it intermixes them ineffectively throughout the hour. Set in Olivia’s dark, somewhat creepy loft−office, it manages to achieve “uncomfortable,” but that’s probably not what producers were going for.
Usually, shows get a point or two for trying, but in the words of Sydney Fife, “Trying is having the intention to fail.” Fans might find it hard to get behind her newest melodrama, and at this point, that’s probably a good thing.