The President of the United States killed a supreme court justice, had an affair with his campaign manager and didn’t legally win the Oval Office. With a storyline like this, it’s no wonder ABC’s “Scandal” has consistently won top viewer ratings for adults aged 18-49. It’s sexy. It’s shocking. It’s tweet-worthy. If only it weren’t so darn hard to watch.
First there’s Olivia Pope, the “fixer” or lawyer or campaign manager or whatever she is, played by the beautiful Kerry Washington. Each episode she swoops in dressed in white, her team of misfit problem-solvers in tow, to save Washington D.C. players from hitting the headlines with whatever murder, fraud or fornication they may or may not have committed. While juggling an illicit affair with the leader of the free world, she manages to uncover the truth behind her clients’ issues thus saving both the clients’ reputations and the day.
Each case is solved with no less than five mentions of the lead character’s full name and a series of fast-paced conversations in which the actors always face each other directly to spout off their lines without breathing. Harrison Wright, played by Columbus Short, always reassures the client that Olivia Pope is a fixer who will get the problem fixed. Abby Whelan, played by Darby Stanchfield, always indicates signs of sexual repression and/or a desire to go rogue, though she always stays loyal to Olivia Pope. Huck, played by Guillermo Diaz, always says some line to Olivia Pope that makes him sound like a cross between Dr. Jekyll and Hannibal Lecter. Olivia Pope.
There are, of course, the classic “West Wing”-esque walking-and-talking scenes, the extended shocked expressions of the actors and actresses just before the commercial break, the steamy sexy scenes with classic soul music blaring, the formulaic falling action just before the surprise twists, and the cliffhanger during the last five minutes of the show which always dangles new twists, new cliffhangers, new scandals in the next episode.
Admittedly, “Scandal” is a breath of fresh air when it comes to cast diversity and the fact that the plots don’t revolve around race and sexual orientation. The characters just happen to be who they are doing the jobs they do and the writers go out of their way to create juicy stories based on actual true-life scandals. However, blocking and delivery of lines are, at best, a few rungs above the normal antics seen on a reality television show.
Will the actors learn to approach their characters in a more natural and believable way? Can the script press forward without the constant mention of the tragic hero’s name or super fixing ability? Will the scenes involve any physical movement besides standing and talking, walking and talking, hungry sex or someone having a weapon wrestled out of their hand? Only next Thursday’s episode will tell.