Watching a Moving Target: “Scandal” and Dirty Secrets

19 Apr

It’s a not-so-dirty secret that some concepts for dramatic television are really good concepts….for a mini-series or a movie, but do not always hold up to weekly viewing for (their creators hope) years on end.  Some series start of great, begging you to come back next week, and then taper off after a few weeks. Some falter out of the gate. Others have a few good weeks and sputter after that, perhaps because they can’t sustain the originality or quality or perhaps, to be honest, because I get bored.

I am rooting for “Scandal”  to produce originality that will, like “Friday Night Lights” or  “The Wire” or even “Revenge,” will keep me coming back because it is smart, entertaining, and different.  The second episode, “Dirty Little Secrets” (original air date 4/12/2012) gives me serious doubts.

“Dirty Little Secrets” opens with Olivia entranced by news reports of President Grant’s first nomination to the Supreme Court. The week’s scandal is introduced almost surreptitiously when an older woman talks to Oliva as she watches. Olivia’s colleagues are seen sweeping a home, looking for or eliminating evidence.  It’s fast: fast camera work, fast talking, fast editing. Quinn walks in with coffee and Harrison informs her that everyone is out “fixing, that’s what we do, we’re fixes.” If you stop for coffee, you’re gonna be left behind.

[SPOILER ALERT] Sharon Marquette, Olivia’s newest client, is DC’s finest madame. Pope’s associates are sweeping the apartment to Marquette’s client list before the U.S. Attorney General does.   What the list tells them, when they crack its code, is that nearly twenty powerful men, including legislators and, the newest Supreme Court nominee, Patrick Keating, are on the list.

The story is predictable to a point. At least I predicted it.  Pope rushes to the White House. Despite her anger at the President, she’s got to help him save face because she suggested Keating. Keating flat-out denies having ever slept with a prostitute or having ever even known a call girl. Pope’s gut tells her to believe him.  She figures out that his wife was the call girl, but that he never knew it (she paid for their “dates” herself, kept working to put him through law school, and kept it all a secret for decades). The secret might wreck the marriage once revealed, but Olivia manuevers to save the nomination by gathering the other “Johns” in one room and convincing them to quash the investigation of Marquette and push the nomination quickly.

It’s all too neat, too easy, and frankly, really, really disturbing. Pope isn’t really saving her client (thought that happens), she’s saving the President. And her actions cause us to wonder if this is how the powerful really behave in Washington D.C. since Pope is famously based on a real “fixer.”

“Dirty Little Secrets” continues the story of Amanda Tanner, the woman who is threatening to go public about her affair with the President. To assuage her own guilt over threatening Tanner, Pope gets Quinn to convince her to be a client so Pope can minimize the damage after a blogger gets wind of the story.

My take so far: “Scandal” has power, in its great acting and its punchy dialogue. Sometimes, however, the dialogue is relentlessly staccato, like “The West Wing” on speed. The actors do well with the material they’re given, but I find Quinn a bit too doe-eyed and Olivia a bit too single-minded; Grant’s Chief of Staff is too idealistic, Grant himself too blindly in love. With the current lack of nuance, these characters could quickly become caricatures.  If I hadn’t known that Shonda Rimes created “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Private Practice,” I might have guessed. Why? Because the show is peopled with strong, intelligent women who let their “judgment be clouded” (Pope’s own words) by love and/or desire. It’s primetime soap opera in the post-feminism (or third wave feminism, if you prefer), digital age. It is precisely this focus on how women attempt to combine love and ambition that will keep many viewers coming back week after week even as the weekly scandals grow less and less believable (and they will, of course).

The storyline about the President and Pope, complicated by Tanner and who knows what else, is not enough to make this a serial drama that compels me.  I just don’t yet care enough. The dirtiest and least kept secret of all: If the viewers don’t care, they’ll stop watching. No matter what the critics say.

New Yorker television critic wrote recently that she thinks it unfair to judge a serial, or even a series, by just one episode. I have to say I agree.  So, I’ll watch again tonight to see if three’s the charm on this one.




Share your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: