Saints and sinners
Noble, upstanding characters may be in short supply on Seven’s Scandal. But gripping, insightful drama certainly isn’t, writes Guy Davis.
Even if you find yourself amused or bemused by some of the more outlandish turns taken by Seven’s political drama Scandal, don’t go calling it a guilty pleasure. You may consider it a compliment, but series creator Shonda Rhimes doesn’t appreciate it.
“To me, it’s an insulting thing to say,” Rhimes said in an interview with website Salon. com. “Calling a show a ‘ guilty pleasure’ is like saying ‘ I’m embarrassed to say I watch it but I can’t stop’. That is not a compliment! Then don’t watch it, don’t watch it, please.”
Ah, but people are watching Scandal – after a slow start during its seven- episode first season, it has attracted enough of a following in its second season to become one of the most popular shows in the US.
The reason for this would seem to be a willingness – an eagerness, even – to go beyond its initial concept of the public- relations firm run by fixer extraordinaire Olivia Pope ( Kerry Washington) cleaning up the crisis of the week and instead become a high- powered, hardcharging drama that delves deeply into political and personal intrigue.
Olivia’s affair with US President Fitzgerald Grant ( Tony Goldwyn) was a juicy part of Scandal’s early episodes. But in the second season, their relationship has become far more tangled and complex, with the people in their lives all getting more and more ensnared in the web.
We’re talking rigged elections, staged assassination attempts and all manner of illegal, immoral behaviour. Handled in the wrong way, one could see why it might be thought of as a guilty pleasure. But there’s piercing insight into human nature at work here as well and it’s something that gives Scandal a sharp edge.
Washington’s Olivia is no angel – she can be controlling and manipulative in some disquieting ways – and that’s something that Rhimes, the creator of Grey’s Anatomy, is happy to explore.
“I feel like it’s really awesome, frankly revolutionary, to have a black female character on television who is the lead of the show who is not a saint,” she said.
“That’s what happens, they always make them a saint, and it’s really boring and nobody cares.”
Scandal is jam- packed with sinners. Or more accurately, flawed, hurting people who often lash out with whatever weapons they have at their disposal. One review aptly described the show as “a series filled with hypercompetent people that can fix anything except the gnawing feeling they deserve the pain heaped upon them”.
Rhimes describes the “whole point of the show” as the fact everyone is harbouring what she calls “dirty little secrets”.
“Everybody has things they’ve covered up, everybody has things that they’re ashamed of,” she said. “Everybody has committed their own personal crimes. And we’re still unfolding and unpacking and figuring out what everyone’s little crimes are. So there’s nobody good.”
No, not even Olivia Pope, even if she is the central character. “We’re forcing the audience to identify with her and then asking them to identify with somebody who’s doing something wrong,” Rhimes said.
Hey, if it works for the likes of Mad Men or Breaking Bad, why not on Scandal? Scandal, Thursday, Seven, 9.30pm