April 8, 2012


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Written by: Mitch Salem


A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot in the spring and the production of episodes for the regular season: a writing/producing team is hired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics begin to rear their ugly heads. The results can include changes to tone, pace, casting, and even story. Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.
Previously… on SCANDAL: Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington), a former aide to President Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn), now runs Washington DC’s hottest crisis management firm. Although the members are all lawyers–apart from Olivia, there’s Stephen Finch (Henry Ian Cusack), Harrison Wright (Columbus Short), Abby Whelan (Darby Stanchfield) and newcomer Quinn Rielly (Katie Lowes)–they rarely appear in court. Rather, their job is to represent the city’s most powerful denizens, keeping their clients’ names out of the press and resolving or hushing up whatever in their lives is about to explode. When ex-White House staffer Amanda Tanner (Liza Weil) threatens to allege an affair with the married President and attempts suicide, it turns out that not only is Amanda telling the truth–Olivia’s own secret is that she’s also been one of the President’s lovers.

Episode 2: SCANDAL marks Shonda Rhimes’ first try at a series away from the medical territory that’s brought her huge success, and so far, it’s a very shaky transition. The series’ second episode, written by Heather Mitchell and directed by Roxann Dawson, introduces what will presumably be the series structure of juggling a scandal-of-the-week with the overarching story of Olivia and her relationship with the White House, and neither fares very well.
The week’s scandal involves Washington’s leading madam (Mimi Kennedy), whose list of clients is being sought by an ambitious US Attorney (Joshua Malina, a far way from his DC West Wing days). Olivia and her crew represent the madam, and when they examine the list, they discover that it includes the judge (John Getz) who the President is about to announce as his nominee for a Supreme Court seat. Olivia, still feeling loyalty to the administration, probes into why the judge is on the madam’s roster, and the ultimate explanation is remarkably idiotic, even by TV terms. It’s followed by a resolution to the judge’s candidacy that’s essentially played for broad laughs, a very odd choice for a show that’s supposedly trying to be a fairly smart, serious-minded soap.
Of course, the Supreme Court plotline also brings Olivia back in contact with the White House, where she and the President share moody our-love-cannot-be looks that wouldn’t be out of place in a Twilight movie, while Jeff Perry plays the President’s chief advisor like he’d kill for just a shred of Martin Sheen’s dialogue from The American President.
Meanwhile, the other members of Olivia’s team are still completely underdeveloped. All we know about Abby is that she has a crush on Stephen (he turns out to be a client of the madam’s, which should be more interesting than it is), and that’s more than any of the others, except that Quinn appears to be the show’s well-meaning fool.
SCANDAL is still a good idea for a series, and Kerry Washington is a strong lead. Rhimes certainly has the chops to create and balance a unified ensemble with compelling stories. (And she improved Private Practice from its original imitation-Grey’s mess to a reasonable level of watchability, so she deserves some time to do her stuff.) So far, though, the show is all potential and little accomplishment. It needs to add IQ points in every way if it’s to earn reelection.

PILOT + 1: Not so fast.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."