‘Scandal’ Season Finale Buckles Under Dizzying Absurdities

Scandal Tony Goldwyn

Scandal” often brings to mind Stephen J. Cannell’s story about pitching “The A-Team” to Brandon Tartikoff. The legendary producer fondly recalled that the wilder the pitch became (until they were essentially just winging it with whatever crazy thing they could think of), the more the NBC executive liked it.

Viewers have largely responded the same way to Shonda Rhimes’ political drama, which wrapped up its third season Thursday night, punctuated at frequent intervals by the by-now customary dramatic pyrotechnics and insanity.

To be fair, this comes from someone who had little regard for the ABC show when it premiered and doesn’t like it much better now.

Yet it’s hard not to admire how the series became a genuine hit (and thus worthy of attention on those terms) by simply going nuts – embracing a simple-minded view of politics and ridiculous elements of espionage, including the family of political power broker Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington), whose not-dead mom (Khandi Alexander) turned out to be some kind of international master criminal; and dad (Joe Morton) a maestro of black ops. (Inexplicably, the D.C. political/media establishment eats this stuff up, presumably because they can’t resist Hollywood’s habit of making them sexier and better looking than they really are.)

Of course, the current season of “Scandal” contained an additional dollop of comedy as the producers labored to shoot around Washington’s pregnancy, forever forcing some poor co-star to position his or her shoulder in front of her belly.

Then again, the show’s absurd camp factor (witness last week’s classic, “Your mother will not kill the President if it means killing you too”) makes it easier to embrace such flourishes – or at the very least, quickly lose sight of them amid the latest flurry of over-the-top plot twists. In that respect, Rhimes and company might have stumbled onto network TV’s answer to reality TV – upping the ante on histrionics beyond the chair-throwing, table-turning antics of “The Real Housewives.”

The season finale was no exception (and SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t watched), as the absurdities piled up so fast there was hardly time to absorb them. Pity the poor President (Tony Goldwyn), who had only just discovered that he couldn’t be with his mistress because his father had raped his wife (Bellamy Young) — presumably, enough body blows for one day — when the First Couple’s son suddenly died, all on the eve of an election.

So a presidential race that had seemingly slipped irrevocably away when a bomb went off at a memorial service — allowing the rival candidate (Kate Burton) to look like Rambo — just as quickly turned. And the President — sort of a wimp in the best of times — could be forgiven for his Oval Office breakdown, whereas having Olivia quit her firm and jet off into the sunset felt like a tired time-killing device. (Time to grieve on “Scandal” is a rare luxury, since something else awful is invariably just around the corner.)

“Scandal’s” audience is programming to roll with the punches at this point, but creatively speaking, it’s an awfully perilous process. Indeed, if the show’s creative mastermind can actually keep pulling these drunken rabbits out of a hat for four more years (Four More Years! Four More Years!), then by all means, Shonda Rhimes for President.

 

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  1. Stephen Doiron says:

    I find your commentary closely akin to mine (though that in itself should worry you) and I’ve been chewing on the season 3 arc all week. On the positive side, O give the writers credit for finally waking up to realize they were in a headlong run towards the cliff and make a panic turn to avoid self-destruction, or, they reached into their bag of absurdities and found they’d used them all up. I’m a believer in cyclic trends and have wound up hoping this season’s finale means we’re making the turn back toward genuine entertainment.

  2. Tawaz says:

    Absurd? I watched Breaking Bad, which is widely considered one of the best shows ever made. There was nothing absurd about a high school chemistry teacher running a global meth ring, right? Let’s take a look at House of Cards. Frank Underwood without ever being elected is…well I’m not going to spoil it. This show is called ground breaking, but never absurd. It is interesting how someone who has never liked Scandal is forced to watch and give an objective review of it. Now that’s truly absurd.

  3. Ty Renee says:

    If you have little regard for the show, why are you still watching? I’m sure someone else at VARIETY who likes the show and can bring an unbias approach would be much more suitable to write the reviews.

    Viewers have NOT responded largely the same way. You obviously don’t take part in the live tweeting session the Gladiator fans have with the cast each Thursday night. They are engaged from START to FINISH!

    And besides, Scandal’s numbers speak for itself so your absurd opinion is USELESS! The finale was a great setup for Season 4.

  4. Jacques Strappe says:

    I think it’s a great campy antidote to the actual and very ugly DC political scene, making all the real political backstabbing and borderline racism exhibited toward our first black president seem somehow a little less absurd. I mean, “death panels” and Obama’s “otherness” now seem almost quaint and kindly.

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