I didn’t mean to get sucked into ABC’s midseason replacement, “Scandal.” I’d only meant to check it out because I flat-out adore Josh Malina (“Sports Night,” “West Wing”) and Columbus Short, and Kerry Washington gives me the tinglies. I wanted to see how bad it was before I completely dismissed it, but I shamelessly ended up watching five episodes in a single day.
Admittedly, Shonda Rhimes’ show got off to a shaky start. There was the hint of the scandal at the center of the show brewing the background. The lead character, Olivia Pope (Washington), runs a consultant firm in which her team of lawyers and investigators basically snuffs out lawsuits against their clients before they get a head of steam, saving their clients of PR nightmares. There’s a certain procedural component to it that I didn’t care for, but as the show went on, the procedural aspects faded into the background to make room for the salacious, compelling, full-blown scandal involving Olivia Pope’s former relationship with the President of the United States, as well as the President’s recent affair with an intern (“Gilmore Girls’ Liza Weil).
I don’t want to reveal too much, because this summer while you’re waiting for “Breaking Bad” to start, I think the buzz on “Scandal” is going to continue to build, and many of you will break down in a moment of entertainment starvation and give it a shot, if only to prove to the rest of us how wrong we are in our opinion of the show. But it will probably win you over, too. The scandal itself has some echoes of John Edwards and Bill Clinton, but at the center of it is the intoxicating, heart-stopping chemistry between the President (Tony Goldwyn) and Olivia, all the more so because obviously their love is forbidden. She’s a consultant. He’s a married man who also happens to be the President of the United States. Remember that sort of sick-in-the-pit of your stomach chemistry that Izzie and Denny had in “Grey’s Anatomy”? Rhimes recaptures it with Olivia and the President.
There’s several other characters that enrich the show, though perhaps my two favorites are Columbus Short — who plays Olivia’s smooth, fast-talking lieutenant — and Jeff Perry, who plays the weaselly, ethically-challenged and closeted gay Chief of Staff. I should also note that the President is Republican — the good kind — but his VP is a horrible Tea-Party conservative, and if the scandal takes out the president, she and her right-wing agenda are poised to take over the country. There’s a lot at stake, and I particularly appreciate that Rhimes takes some pains to highlight the difference between good conservatives and the nutbags, something that is rarely done on scripted television.
Henry Ian Cusick (of “Lost” fame) is also in the mix, as another member of the consultant firm, and Joshua Malina channels his best Will Bailey as the US Attorney General who ends up working a case that could lead him into the muck of the President’s affairs. Bellamy Young does a fine job, too, as the ambitious First Lady.
I’ll be the first to admit that, on paper, it doesn’t sound like a show many of the Pajiba demo — with our “Community” nerdiness, our “Game of Thrones” geekery, our “Parks and Rec” earnestness, our love of all that is Olyphantastic, and our admiration for intelligent dramas like “Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men” — would typically gravitate towards. If you’re not willing to admit a guilty fondness for the first couple of seasons of “Grey’s Anatomy” or the first few episodes of “Revenge” (before the sudsy drama cratered), “Scandal” may not suit you. But it is fun, it’s well acted, and written well enough not to be embarrassing, but not so well that it’s aspiring for something more than a hook-you-by-the-eyeballs soap that finds a way to end each episode with a cliffhanger bigger than the last. It’s a good summer show, like USA Network fare if USA Network fare had a point (which is to say, if they actually made an effort to push their serialized arcs forward instead of letting them listlessly bookend the episodic procedurals). It’s something of the Shonda Rhimes’ version of The Good Wife, and it’s better and more fun than it has any right to be.
Plus, Kerry Washington.