[07/01/11 - 07:51 AM]
The Futon's First Look: "Scandal" (ABC)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

Please note: As a courtesy, please do not reproduce these comments to newsgroups, forums or other online places. Links only please.

Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2011-2012 season, now in its sixth year! Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!

[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]

(written by Shonda Rhimes; directed by Paul McGuigan; TRT: 46:03)

The network's description: "From the creator and executive producers of "Grey's Anatomy" and "Private Practice" comes a drama revolving around the life and work of a professional crisis manager and her dysfunctional staff. A former media relations consultant to the President, Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) dedicates her life to protecting and defending the public images of our nation's elite. After leaving the White House, the power consultant opened her own firm, hoping to start a new chapter -- both professionally and personally -- but she can't seem to completely cut ties with her past. Slowly it becomes apparent that her staff, who specialize in fixing the lives of other people, can't quite fix the ones closest at hand -- their own.

"Scandal" stars Kerry Washington ("Ray") as Olivia Pope, Henry Ian Cusick ("Lost") as Stephen Finch, Columbus Short ("Stomp the Yard") as Harrison Wright, Guillermo Diaz ("Half-Baked") as Huck, Darby Stanchfield as Abby Whelan, Katie Lowes as Quinn Perkins, Tony Goldwyn ("Ghost") as President Fitzgerald Grant and Jeff Perry ("Grey's Anatomy") as Cyrus. "Scandal" was written by Shonda Rhimes ("Grey's Anatomy," "Private Practice"). Rhimes and Betsy Beers ("Grey's Anatomy," "Private Practice") are executive producers. Paul McGuigan is the director. "Scandal" is produced by ABC Studios."

What did they leave out? The project, formerly known as "Damage Control," is inspired by the life of famed PR maven Judy Smith.

The plot in a nutshell: "Best job you'll ever have. You'll change lives, slay dragons, love the hunt more than you ever dreamed. Because Olivia Price is as amazing as they say," lawyer Harrison Wright (Columbus Short) explains in his sales pitch to prospective hire Quinn Perkins (Katie Lowes). And he's right: crisis manager Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) is just that good. She'll need to be in order to help their newest client, Iraq war hero/conservative poster boy Sully St. James (Wes Brown). His girlfriend has been found dead and he's the lead suspect. Every piece of evidence points to him as the murderer and yet, Olivia's gut says he didn't.

That's good enough for the members of her team: charming litigator Stephen Finch (Henry Ian Cusick), sardonic investigator Abby Whelan (Darby Stanchfield), slightly unhinged tech guy Huck (Guillermo Diaz), the aforementioned Harrison and now Quinn. But Sully isn't all that's on Olivia's plate: her old boss, Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn) - better known as the President of the United States, wants her to look into Amanda Tanner (Liza Weil), an aide who's been telling people they've been sleeping together. He likewise passes her gut test and she opts to put the fear of God into Amanda, who still insists she's not lying. Meanwhile things on the Sully front continue to get worse, that is until they stumble across some security footage that confirms his alibi however he won't let them use it. Ultimately, both efforts affirm the adage that nothing is ever exactly as it seems.

What works: It's very Shonda Rhimes and I say that in the best possible way. As is custom under her pen, characters speak in an exasperated, self-referential manner while the job at hand always seems to find a way to intermix with the characters' most inner of turmoils. And amongst the backdrop of crisis management, where our heroes regularly find themselves confronted by foibles they're all too familiar with, said facets work as well as ever. It's also nice to see that "Scandal" doesn't quite color in the lines of your typical law show or cop show. Since they're technically neither, they can bribe guards, blackmail cops and threaten those who don't know any better without reservation, and with a shut-up-because-we're-smarter-than-you smile at that.

It helps give a nice, unfettered breeziness to the usual procedural mechanizations, allowing the principals to give uncensored, menacing bons mots to those who stand in their way (Olivia's speech to Amanda on why she should give up now is particularly devastating) and reassuring, heartfelt soliloquies when their mettles are tested ("Everyone in this office needs fixing," Huck tells a crying Quinn, who's having a rough first day. "You're a stray dog and Olivia took you in. Don't question it."). All in all, Washington and company make for a likeable bunch - which also includes "Grey's" mainstay Jeff Perry as the President's fixer - and Smith's wide palate of clients (from Monica Lewinsky to Marion Barry) suggests there's fodder for more than a few juicy cases ahead.

What doesn't: On the other hand there's a big bet towards the end of the pilot (which obviously I won't spoil here) that's hard to get my head around, both from a pragmatic standpoint and a basic character one. Setting aside the former, I've never been a big fan of unpacking characters in a way that draws a straight line between a romantic frailty and a professional one. The idea that a purportedly strong, self-assured person can come undone on the job because of the-one-that-got-away feels like a soapy cheat. Here that's presented as the case for a certain member of the cast, one that under the usual Rhimes' microscope feels needlessly convoluted and - when the aforementioned disbelief isn't suspended - borders on ridiculous.

Said lens likewise makes the resolution to all of the above foibles - both professionally and personally - even more trite, especially when the moments leading up to it suggest there's room for shades of gray. There's also the looming prospect of how the show will work outside the umbrella of the pilot as half the fun at work here is teeing up moments that won't have the same effect again, whether it's Harrison opening spiel about the wonder that is Olivia or Huck's closing declaration that they turn over their evidence to the police when a case is closed partially just to spite them over how much better they are. All things considered though there's plenty of hope and potential to go around to suggest that...

The bottom line: ...this could be a good show.

  [july 2011]  


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