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Scandal

Started by Chris L, Jun 26, 2018, 03:44 am

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Chris L

Jun 26, 2018, 03:44 am Last Edit: Jun 28, 2018, 03:50 am by Chris L
This should be embarrassing to admit, but for some reason I'm not at all ashamed of it. @AmyG and I have become hopelessly addicted to the TV show Scandal, all seven seasons of which are now available on Netflix.

I had been wondering why Shonda Rhimes is such an incredibly successful producer, with one hit show after another: Grey's Anatomy, Private Practice (with Audra McDonald!), Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder. I started watching Scandal -- and it didn't take long to realize that the show was as addictive as crack (or as addictive as I've heard crack is supposed to be, not having sampled it personally). I roped Amy in and started watching it again from the beginning.

Apparently the show was almost cancelled after its 7-episode first season, when it was simply about political fixer Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington), her team of lawyers/investigators and her relationship with the president of the U.S., Fitz Grant. ABC only gave it a 13-episode pick-up for the second season, where it was on the bubble of cancellation if it didn't pick up more viewers.

Rhimes and her writing staff went for broke in those 13 episodes with a spectacular arc that deepened the characters, revealed dark secrets and turned the show into one of the most intelligently sensational soap operas on TV. The show already moved at lightning speed -- I haven't seen a show increase the sheer velocity of television storytelling the way Scandal does since ER debuted back in the 90s -- but now it was turning its cast into some of the most morally ambiguous characters I've seen since Breaking Bad.

Never mind that Rhimes lifts tropes right and left from other shows like The West Wing and Alias. At least she's stealing from the best. Watching the show is like munching on the best popcorn you've ever pulled out of the microwave -- you can't stop after just one kernel. Now we're up to Season Three and the show is still pulling clever rabbits out of its hat, some of which can be guessed in advance if you're well versed in TV tropes, some of which are completely unexpected, but all of which leave you gobsmacked, whether you saw them coming or not.

And the supporting characters, from former black ops assassin Huck (no last name) to the deceptively mild-mannered Quinn (who murdered her boyfriend in an act of terrorism before she was taken in by Olivia -- or did she?), and gay White House chief-of-staff Cyrus Beene absolutely make the show. The primary running arc, about the more-than-casual relationship between Olivia and her married boyfriend who happens to be the leader of the free world, is weak tea compared to all the secondary arcs that the show juggles like spinning plates. (Is that a mixed metaphor?)

It's tremendous fun and the production values are fantastic. If you have Netflix and want to go on a long, shameless binge, I can't think of any better show to recommend. Get the popcorn ready, watch the first episode and then just try to stop, especially when you get into the second season. I dare you!
But us, old friend,
What's to discuss, old friend?

Leighton

I watched this pretty obsessively until early season six ... I'd be interested to see what you think of the later seasons!
Self indulgence is better than no indulgence!

AmyG

Yeah, I'm sure all these 
Quote from: Leighton on Jun 26, 2018, 10:45 amI watched this pretty obsessively until early season six ... I'd be interested to see what you think of the later seasons!
Yeah, I'm sure with the cliff hangers and sensational plot arcs, they are bound to paint themselves into a corner at some point.
Another thing Chris and I have talked about is the soundtrack. If you like 60s and 70s soul/R&B, and c'mon, who doesn't, it is a pleasure just to listen to. The show we watched last night had a love-making scene to "Ain't No Sunshine". They've used a lot of Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind and Fire, and countless other great R&B artists from that era. 

Chris L

Quote from: Leighton on Jun 26, 2018, 10:45 amI watched this pretty obsessively until early season six ... I'd be interested to see what you think of the later seasons!
Few shows can sustain the same quality across seven 22-episode seasons. (Okay, the first season of Scandal was only seven episodes, but still...). I don't expect it to be as good at the end as it was in the second season. Even in the third season, which we're halfway through, the show is getting a bit repetitive, but I'm still feeling compelled to watch.

My main problem at this point is the idiotic relationship between Olivia and Fitz -- and that's the show's major sustained arc. But the secondary arcs are still holding up, even if Huck and Quinn are getting thoroughly weird (by which I mean weirder than they already were). I've already decided that Olivia is an idiot. I mean, all Fitz has to do is look moony-eyed at her and she falls into his arms, despite his having proven repeatedly that he's a deeply dislikeable human being -- and Olivia's supposed to be the smartest person in whatever room she's in. The show seems determined to provide fan service for the Olitz (Olivia-Fitz) 'shippers.

At least Cyrus is still dependably fun to watch, despicable and underhanded though he can be. He may be the best character on the show. Sometimes he's even sympathetic.

(No spoilers about where the show is going, though, okay?)
But us, old friend,
What's to discuss, old friend?

Chris L

And there's an incredible amount of Stevie Wonder on the soundtrack. No complaints from me there. Wonder may have been the greatest R&B songwriter of his era (though I'm equally fond of Earth, Wind & Fire).
But us, old friend,
What's to discuss, old friend?

Chris L

We're starting the fifth season of Scandal. The show has been all over the place and back again -- literally, with its frequent repetition of plot points. (In a standalone case, it's usually a close relative of the suspect -- wife, mother, sister -- that committed the crime.) What fascinates me most, though, is the Shonda Rhimes dialog style, which she seems to have taught everybody on her writing staff.

Rhimes claims to have learned to write by analyzing West Wing scripts, but her dialog is very different from Aaron Sorkin's. For one thing, it isn't really dialog. It's a series of monologues, with either Olivia or Cyrus or Mellie or Rowan rattling on at such exhausting length that it would become unbearable if they didn't talk so fast. One reviewer on AVClub commented that they tend to talk in bullet points, which I thought was a pretty fair description of how Rhimes writes. The monologuing character makes a point, then expands on the point in a dozen different ways before they even reach the end of the sentence. All of the characters talk pretty much alike, leaving it up to each actor to find a cadence that distinguishes their character's speech patterns from every other character's speech patterns. Cyrus, for instance, will insert strategic pauses in the middle of his sentences (probably to catch his breath), then abruptly speed up, pause again, slow down, then speed back up to rattle off the next series of bullet points.

For all of that, the show still retains a certain fascination, even if it's becoming repetitive. We'll probably stick it out until the end, if just to see how bad it gets in the last couple of seasons (which are still a ways off for us). The problem seems to be that, one by one, every character is becoming fairly detestable, which might not be so bad if they didn't insist on telling the other characters how detestable they are.

And the show's politics are baffling. Fitzgerald Grant is a Republican president who takes the Democratic side of almost every issue, then insists that the Democrats will pillory him for it. What part of the Bizarro World is he living in? At least they've set up his former vice president, played by Richard Burton's daughter Kate, as a far more believable Republican -- and now she's the one who's pillorying him, as a Fox News host (though I'm pretty sure they don't actually call her network Fox News).
But us, old friend,
What's to discuss, old friend?

Chris L

Quote from: Leighton on Jun 26, 2018, 10:45 amI watched this pretty obsessively until early season six ... I'd be interested to see what you think of the later seasons!
We're 3/4ths of the way through Season Six and, while not the show's best, it's actually injecting some new life into the series. There have been moments when I wanted to grab the characters by the shoulders and tell them what idiots they were being, but there have also been some very imaginative episodes. There's one where Huck is trapped in the trunk of a sinking car and trying to get out that reminded me of the Season Three episode of Sherlock where Benedict Cumberbatch has been shot and is desperately running through options in his head to figure out how not to die. Huck has a similar fantasy moment -- and it's very cleverly done. (After stealing so much from J.J. Abrams' Alias, it was nice to see Shonda Rhimes stealing from Steven Moffat instead.) And, of course, they did what every series does when it's run this long -- an It's a Wonderful Life episode, where Olivia imagines what the last six seasons would have been like if she'd handled Defiance differently. They've also managed the not-inconsiderable feat of making both Rowan Pope and Cyrus Beene sympathetic, which is a twist. It's not great television, but it's still watchable TV, which is what counts on a show like this.
But us, old friend,
What's to discuss, old friend?

Chris L

That last message was ill timed. Immediately after the "It's a Wonderful Life" episode, Scandal had two of the most idiotic, bloated episodes I've ever seen on a TV show. They were about a terrorist plot so absurdly constructed that even a moment's thought would have brought it tumbling down, but nobody on this show seems capable of a moment's thought. Fortunately, they managed to deal with the terrorist plot in two episodes, though it could have been dealt with between commercial breaks. And the show immediately improved once the terrorist moment was over, though it looks like they're going to plunge right back into it with the final two episodes of the season.

Still, we're nearing the end of the series, so we might as well stick it out to see if the show has any life left in it. There's been a mildly interesting shakeup at Olivia Pope Associates and they might be able to run somewhere good with it. Or not. Stay tuned. Same Bat Channel, Same Bat Station. (Or whatever it was the announcer used to say on one of the most idiotic shows of the 60s.)
But us, old friend,
What's to discuss, old friend?