Watching a Moving Target: Hell Hath No Fury Like a Viewer Scorned

27 Apr

I’ll be honest, I forgot to watch “Scandal” last week. Last night’s episode, “Enemy of the State” (original airdate: 4/26/2012) worked just fine without my having seen “Hell Hath No Fury” (original airdate: 4/19/2012). That is to say: I was able to quickly catch up on the Amanda Tanner scandal and the Olivia Pope’s angst.

I’ve come to a four-episode conclusion: Much as I really wanted to like “Scandal,” it simply isn’t for me.

Why?

  • The dialogue, while punchy and Sorkin-esque, is unrelentingly so. It’s too fast, too pithy. I appreciate that speed and staccato of the speech is meant to convey the battle-like nature of what Pope does for her clients. And, perhaps it is meant to symbolize the high-stakes games at work in D.C. scandals. It is utterly unnatural, and doesn’t work for me.
  • There has been little character development, beyond Olivia and Quinn. Rather than have the character’s stories unfold over time, this week’s episode introduced each of Olivia’s associates through background investigations that Cyrus is doing to bring Pope down.  His aim is to reveal their secrets. He does, to a certain extent. It was at once satisfying and not so. We knew each had a secret; the commercials tell us and the characters are all so enigmatic that there had to be more than met the eye. Even doe-eyed, emotional, “innocent”Quinn  has a secret.  Yet, given the current political atmosphere, I find it odd that white collar crimes and being the victim of domestic abuse are “secrets” while the President’s chief of staff is openly gay. It doesn’t ring true. Now that their secrets have been aired to the public, each character is beginning to show his/her true colors and emotions a bit more, so maybe character developments can begin to evolve.
  • It is predictable. One of the links below asks “Who expected that?” of Amanda Tanner’s presidency.  Who didn’t expect it?!  This is pure soap opera set in Washington, D.C. The stakes are higher because of who the father is, but soap is soap.  I like soap, truly. But I like my predictability to be less cringe-creating. A mistress whose pregnancy might bring down the presidency? Really?  If he’s not smart enough to use triple-protection, how did he get elected?
  • Transitions between scenes. At first I liked the clicking of a camera and the rapid slide show of D.C. highlights.  Aesthetically, I still think it’s pretty. But, it is no longer interesting.  Rather, it makes me think of a spy film or a detective show. “Scandal” is neither of these, so the trope doesn’t work for me.
  • Scandals of the week: The scandals themselves are increasingly far-fetched.  A dictator’s wife defects and Pope talks him into allowing it?  Yes, her arguments were sheer genius , “You can let her go and she’s just a women who left her kids, or you can prevent her from taking the children with her and she becomes the leader of rebellion against you, the threat to your political power.”  But, it seemed so unrealistic that I laughed.

What I’ve liked:

Jeff Perry. Maybe because he’s a fellow Chicagoan. Maybe because he’s a great actor and he is given the most depth of character. I love the subtle, nuanced way that he plays Cy. He is powerful, ruthless, smart, and caring, kind, and funny. Cy’s sexuality is simply not an issue; rather, it is a fact of his life.

  • Josh Molina. As Culture Husband noted, “He’s good in everything he does.” In “Scandal” his character doesn’t seem to take himself as seriously as the others. He’s just a guy doing his job. I enjoyed seeing him enlist Pope, normally his adversary, to save his favorite newsstand this week. The story showed his human side and taught us quite a bit about immigrants and the American dream.
  • Kerry Washington’s nuanced interpretation of the hard-edged Olivia Pope. She may not cry, but we can see that she is capable of deep emotions.
  • Cinematography: I love the way some scenes are framed in multiple planes, with the action in the deepest part of the frame. Characters standing sentinel in the front plane of the image as dialogue or action happens in the back create a sense of how Olivia protects her clients physically as well as theoretically or legally.
  • The scandal of the week: Much as David E. Kelley put all his political views into James Spader’s closing arguments each week on “Boston Legal,” Rimes puts them into the scandal. So far she’s dealt with gays in the military, women’s rights, and high level corruption. She exposes each in a way that makes you think, “Well, it’s pretty unreal in this show, but is it based on some reality? If it is, wow.”
  • What Would Judy Do? The blog tie-in of a real fixer weighing in on each week’s case.

This series of posts was inspired by the pedagogical work of Professor Sean O’Sullivan of Ohio State University around questions of completeness vs. incompleteness; and narrative fragment vs. narrative unity. I’ve clearly gotten off-topic because “Scandal” hasn’t held my interest. To redirect briefly, “Scandal” is an odd hybrid: It works like a primetime episodic drama on the level of the “scandal of the week” yet it also creates a sense of seriality around the Pope-Tanner-President storyline.  Many critics have noted that it is “soapier” than they had expected. Certainly it positions the Pope-Tanner-President drama as the reason to tune in next week.  Yet this, Pope’s own scandal as it were, is the blandest part of the show (though I love Cyrus Beane, I really do).

My gut tells me that the show will “jump the shark” next week when Amanda Tanner is bound, gagged, and kidnapped. I’m guessing it’s not her body they pull from the river because that would end the triangle in the fifth episode. Nevertheless, the idea has been planted Tanner is lying and that there is a force behind her actions whom we’ve yet to meet. I predict that Pope will blame whatever happens to Tanner on the President. Then, just as she is about to take the President down, she’ll learn that someone else is pulling Tanner’s puppet strings and that the puppeteer threatens her client, Tanner, and her love, the President. She’ll join forces with Cy to route out the threat. And in the end she’ll have her security clearance and White House pass restored.

Chances are, however, that I will not be tuning in to see it unfold.

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