“Scandal” had me from the opening seconds of its first show. A couple of the actors delivered their dialogue at delirious screwball comedy velocity, with a bit of an overlap.
The show’s premise was glorious – all about a Washington, D.C., “fixer” modeled on the very real Judy Smith, a former press aide to President George H.W. Bush.
We were, in the beginning and for a couple more episodes, led to believe that the whole show would follow where überfixer Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) and her team of dedicated “gladiators” went as they were hired by this or that Beltway miscreant, foul-up or idiot to haul their posteriors out of the bonfire – all the while Pope herself was potentially causing a conflagration by having a 400 hp love affair with the president of the United States.
I foresaw a delightful two-track TV drama every week – one snappily written exploration of all the secret ways Washingtonians mess up and the even-more-secret ways they’re rescued in counterpoint with a sexy soap opera love affair involving America’s zipper-in-chief.
Cool, I thought. Appointment TV for grown-ups.
Then, another character shot the president in the head and the whole show went kerflooey. It had a nervous breakdown right there in front of God and everyone. Its certifiable craziness not only continued week after week but accelerated at the herky-jerky pace of a squirrel on uppers.
Wild new plot wrinkles flew in from deep left field and then flew back out again minutes later to make room for new ones.
It seems the president wasn’t legit, anyway. The only reason he was in the White House was because of voting machine fraud in Ohio.
He wasn’t shot by an actual person, you see, but by a robot rifle operated by a female assassin at a safe distance.
And, get this now, she was paid not by the swaggering, corrupt Southern businessman in the bad toupee who seems to have a full White House access pass, but by the liberal female Supreme Court justice who’s rapidly dying of lung cancer and is perfectly content to spend eternity in hell.
She was one of those in the president’s inner circle who signed off on the Ohio fraud but then developed a galloping case of patriotic remorse. The Prez himself, of course, didn’t even know what all his inner circle had achieved by both hook and crook.
With all that chaos (I haven’t even mentioned three other ongoing subplots), some resolution practically pleaded to announce itself.
That was neatly taken care of last Thursday when the Prez, on a hospital visit with his dying Supreme Court appointee, reacted to the news of his fraudulent election by calmly removing her oxygen mask, pinning her hands down and leaving her to gasp helplessly and horribly for her final breaths.
Did I mention the Prez is a liberal Republican? Well, that’s where we are as we head into the new show on Thursday night.
It goes without saying that my sedate little plan for keeping up with “Scandal” on my couch was pitched into the show’s weekly bonfire along with all of its circumspection and common sense. If I stayed with it – and I have, I have (on my DVR) – it was because I was watching one of the nuttiest TV shows I’ve ever seen.
These people – led by the show’s inventor and show-runner, Shonda Rhimes – weren’t just jumping the shark five times every hour; they were riding on its back to the nearest amusement park.
It seems I have lots of company in wide-eyed weekly witness to “Scandal’s” wildness and weirdness. In the current issue of Entertainment Weekly, Mark Harris – author of the excellent Hollywood history “Pictures at a Revolution” and the husband of “Angels in America” and “Lincoln” writer Tony Kushner – calls it “against all odds, the most original drama on network TV right now.”
“It gets better and crazier every week. … ‘Scandal’ never stalls. It is dementedly bent on jumping ahead of your attempts to jump ahead of it. … Most network television is safe and ‘Scandal’ is not. It’s unhinged, it’s insane. And it couldn’t be more welcome.”
My obvious question is this: If you’re blowing up your own show every week, won’t there come a point where all you’ve got left of the show’s premise is shrapnel, and not nearly enough of it to construct whole other episodes and plotlines?
But then, I suppose, at that point you could always employ the old supercapitalist solution I once heard was used by a radio soap opera about a small town.
When a few too many unpleasant cast members banded together to ask for more money, the producers and writers – who hated all the actors – put every one of their characters in a bus on the way to a church picnic and then sent the bus over a cliff.
Now there’s a solution even megafixer Olivia Pope might find a little extreme.