Scandal Premiere Review: Gladiators. In Suits.
If you've got a crisis, Olivia Pope and Associates will solve it. Quickly. And quietly.
ABC's newest Shonda Rhimes hit, Scandal, is set in Washington, D.C., an area rife with scandals both fictional and factual, which gives this show enough reality to hook people who love it when strangers' lives are on the verge of unraveling. Olivia and her crack team of Jacks-(and Jills)-of-All-Trades handle all problems, large and small, fixing the personal and professional lives of others, often to the detriment of their own.
Scandal is, on its face, a procedural. Each week there's a new client to help, a new crisis to avert. But the characters make this show a procedural with guts and grit. And heart. And that's why I like it.
The first characters we meet in the show's premiere, "Sweet Baby," are new-to-the-action Quinn Perkins (Katie Lowes) and Harrison Wright (Columbus Short), a seasoned crisis-manager who has a way with words. Quinn thinks the two have been set up on a blind date, but the meeting is actually Quinn's job interview, offer, and acceptance, all in the span of two minutes or less.
Aside from the fact that Harrison knows how to talk people into things (and his way out of things, I'd imagine), we don't learn much about him in the first episode. He seems to play his cards close to his chest, but he's clearly good at what he does. And he looks great in a suit, too.
Quinn is also something of a mystery. We know she's an attorney and that Olivia Pope sought her out for the job instead of the other way around, but we don't know why, aside from learning that there's something about her that needs fixing and Olivia may just be the woman for the job. Quinn's a quick study and it's through her learning the ropes that we're able to get the inside scoop on how things work in Olivia's world.
Olivia (Kerry Washington) is the former Communications Director for the White House. Shortly after President Fitzgerald "Fitz" Grant (Tony Goldwyn) is elected, Olivia leaves her post to open her firm. There's ice water in her veins when she's working for a client and she's loyal to those she considers a friend. But when you're friends with the President, loyalty isn't always what it's cracked up to be.
Speaking of the President: never trust a man with two last names. As we soon find out there's something about President Fitzgerald Grant we can't trust no matter what public opinion polls may say about him.
Rounding out Olivia's team are Stephen Finch (Henry Ian Cusick), Abby Whelan (Darby Stanchfield), and Huck (Guillermo Diaz).
Stephen, an attorney from across the pond, is on the verge of proposing to his girlfriend but he's having trouble working up enough courage. He's a ladies man and monogamy may be hard for him. There are also hints that Abby's got a thing for Stephen.
Abby is the investigator of the group. She, like Harrison, has the ability to talk her way into places she shouldn't be, which is what makes her a great investigator. Except she'll just go ahead and let people know she knows their dirty little secrets. She's the one who can be counted on to speak the truth, even when the truth isn't pretty.
Huck is the team's "IT guy," a.k.a. the hacker. He's a former CIA operative with a fierce sense of loyalty to Olivia. It seems like he feels that he owes her for a debt he can't repay.
(To get a glimpse of Harrison's smooth-talking, and to get to know the other characters a little more deeply, visit our Scandal quotes page.)
Now that the cast of characters has been introduced, let's talk about the story.
Nearly all of the clients who come into the office seeking the help of Olivia and her team help develop the characters in some way. Lt. Col. Sully St. James, a decorated war hero who comes to Olivia after finding his girlfriend dead in her apartment, calling 911, and then fleeing the scene of the crime, serves as a catalyst for both Stephen's proposal and as a vehicle through which we learn the ins and outs of what it means to manage a crisis.
But it's the story of Amanda Tanner, a White House aide who accuses the President of an affair, that really helps to push the story and characters along. It's in dealing with this particular crisis that we see Olivia's strengths and her weakness.
Her strength is that she's good at what she does. She effectively silences Amanda's story, and nearly silences Amanda herself in the process after the aide resigns from her job and attempts suicide after crossing paths with Olivia.
Olivia's weakness is the President himself. The two have a romantic history and Olivia is, at first, blinded by their past, which is why, despite the fact that she no longer works for the President, she agrees to take care of the Tanner scandal. Their past prevents her from seeing things clearly until she hears the phrase "sweet baby" in the hospital and realizes that Amanda has been telling the truth and she has made a huge mistake.
The Tanner scandal also allows Quinn to play a role in that, after she watches Olivia's method of dealing with the President's crisis and wondering whether or not she has what it takes to do this job, she stands up to Olivia and defends her own gut instinct that Amanda Tanner is telling the truth. (I can tell you after screening the next episode that the Tanner scandal is one that will likely carry us through most, if not all, of the first season. It guarantees to be a scandal Olivia has difficulty handling, especially since she herself is in the middle of it.)
In any show, it's the characters and whether or not we can root for them that help give a show its power, and that's certainly true for Scandal. By the end of the episode, I found myself fascinated with the way the team handled the crises, but ultimately wanting to know more about each member of the ensemble and what it is about them that Olivia has fixed or what they each still need help fixing.
It's also clear that Olivia herself needs help but may never admit that to anyone. Not even herself. The characters are the driving forces here and learning more about them is why I'll watch week after week.
What did you think of Scandal? Are you as intrigued as I am by the mysteries behind these characters? Who is your favorite?
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Scandal: "Sweet Baby"
Miranda Wicker is a Staff Writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.