I had high hopes for this show. Lots of people told me it was good, and I really enjoyed “Django Unchained” (perhaps more than I should have) so I was excited to see Kerry Washington in a title role.
The first red flag was the “created by Shondra Rhimes” tagline in the opening moments of the pilot. Most famous for “Grey’s Anatomy,” Rhimes has arguably become one of the most influential screenwriters in America. Not that “Grey’s Anatomy” is all bad…it’s just…well…they nicknamed the hot doctor on the show “McDreamy.” Most medical dramas are corny and unrealistic, though, so perhaps I’m being unfair.
“Scandal” is another beast. As a disclaimer, I only watched the first two episodes because that was all I could stand, so I concede that perhaps the show improves. But I am highly doubtful that is the case.
Here are just a few of the things I can’t stand about it:
- The trite and sometimes harmful “truisms” in the show. Remember the scene in the first episode when the soldier who has been accused of murder starts yelling about how he’s a hero and therefore “can’t be gay”? I understand that he is in denial about his sexuality, but the way the show presents homosexuality as incompatible with heroism is dangerous and limiting, despite the soldier’s later proclamation on national television that he is gay. Instead, we’re presented with the idea that someone who is gay necessarily cannot be a hero, and that this idea is not only unsurprising, but common knowledge.
- The figure of Olivia Pope, played by Kerry Washington. She’s gorgeous, she means business, and she’s a machine who forbids her employees to cry. Rhimes offers of her version of an idealized, powerful “feminist.” And it’s awful. Because even though Pope is constantly trying to be strong and stay focused, her “female issues”–i.e., her intimate interactions with the president–are always threatening to break through her tough exterior, and these emotional moments are understood to be Pope’s greatest, inevitable weakness. In addition, because she is a woman Pope is also supposed to be a matchmaker of sorts. She helps one of her employees (an inexplicable British lawyer whose accent is clearly supposed to make him “sexy”) select an engagement ring and pushes him to propose to his girlfriend. Pope is at once expected to be feminine but not-too-feminine, capable of dispensing romantic advice but too “professional” to have a romance of her own, and look beautiful while acting like a machine and pretending to have no weaknesses or complexities. Ugh.
- The corny, shutter-click photography sequences that occur several times throughout the episode. They are unnecessary, dizzying, and serve as a crutch to connect shoddily-constructed plot sequences.
- Finally, there is zero substance in this show. I watched “The West Wing” for a while but finally had to quit because of the unquestionably patriotic overtones and the lack of cohesion across the episodes. But at least on “The West Wing” there is some actual information about how Washington D.C. operates. My favorite figure on that show, for example, was Ainsley Hayes because she offered a much-needed contrasting point of view in an overwhelmingly Democratic White House. (And I don’t identify with blonde Republican women). But “Scandal” is all fluff, gossip, and filler. It’s a soap-opera version of the nation’s capital.
All this makes me wonder about Kerry Washington, who having been initiated into the Phi Beta Kappa honors society after graduating from George Washington University, is probably a very smart woman. It saddens me to think that there aren’t more and varied and better roles for a black actress. Because here she is, supposedly playing a powerful female figure in a very popular television show, and actually her character isn’t very empowered at all. And in her other famous role in “Django,” she’s beautiful and mostly silent, waiting on two gun-toting men to rescue her. Both roles are based on limiting female archetypes, but Olivia Pope on “Scandal” is the more dangerous of the two because she is supposed to represent the apex of female achievement. And what a limited view of “achievement” it is.