I freely admit I was late to the wackadoodle political party that is ABC’s Scandal, now hurtling toward a second-season finale on a TV screen near you. After all, it was created by Shonda Rhimes, who managed with Grey’s Anatomy to make both General Hospital and Paddy Chaevsky’s 1971 film screed The Hospital look like models of medical-drama accuracy and decorum. But in chronicling the exploits of Olivia Pope, a political operative-for-hire who has conducted a torrid affair with a married Republican president, Rhimes has built a show that can accommodate election rigging, assassination attempts, Supreme Court Justice–bullying and a gay chief-of-staff who’s married to an investigative reporter. Who would pass up all this for high-minded competition like CBS’ Sherlock Holmes pastiche Elementary? One of the best things about Scandal is that its multilayered storytelling and pacing are as sophisticated as any of the more classy, high-falutin’ cable shows like Mad Men or Game of Thrones.
Kerry Washington stars as Pope, a woman so fierce her stiletto heels seem to have left track marks on everyone on her staff, yet a woman so romantic, she’ll enthusiastically accede to President Fitzgerald Grant’s make-out sessions in a White House closet because she believes that true love is the greatest power of all. Washington is currently the only black actor playing a lead character in a hit prime-time network series, and if you need to reach back to Diahann Carroll’s 1968 series Julia to find a similarly stand-alone black heroine, I’m obliged to point out that Julia sank in the ratings during its second season, while Scandal just keeps getting more popular. The Hollywood Reporter claimed in February that an average episode of Scandal generates 2,200 tweets per minute, making it an American Idol–sized social-media phenomenon, but without the screechy melismas.
Indeed, part of the allure of Scandal is that it gives Pope her melancholy dignity while everyone else around her does the screeching. This extends to the impossibly moderate but all-too-believably WASP president, who is portrayed by Tony Goldwyn as though he’s perennially late for an assignation on a yacht. A brooding ditherer (think JFK plus Bush II divided by Nixonian gloom), President Grant, more commonly referred to as Fitz, wasn’t even aware that Pope and her minions helped manipulate the vote that got him elected.
Read more On the Politics of ‘Scandal’ | The Nation.