“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.