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ABC series ‘Scandal' is entertaining and cynical

By Rich Heldenfels
Akron Beacon Journal
134606_0086
ERIC MCCANDLESS - ABC
Kerry Washington stars as Olivia Pope in the hit series “Scandal.”

The ABC series “Scandal” returns from a long hiatus with its “spring premiere” at 10 p.m. Thursday and I am sure you are dying for some scoop about what will happen.

But the network has offered one of the least revealing episode descriptions ever. It says, in total: “The White House deals with a bombshell announcement from Sally Langston. Meanwhile, Olivia finds herself in a challenging new role.”

A bombshell announcement? Could it be about Sally killing her closeted gay husband? Or could Sally have found out something about Olivia’s spymaster father– or Liv’s apparently terrorist mother? Should Liv be calling Huck – or Fitz – or Cyrus? Is B613 involved? How much crazier can it all get?

Pretty crazy, based on the run of “Scandal” to date. It has consistently been a show where nearly anything is possible, where no act is too implausible, and no character is free of corruption when it serves his or her self-interest. While series creator Shonda Rhimes has had other shows, notably “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal’s” eagerness to embrace any rapidly moving, OMG plot turn – along with a fearless refusal to be bound by realism – made it Rhimes’ masterwork.

But as deliriously entertaining as “Scandal” can be, it has points to make, starting with it being the rare series – let alone the rare hit – built around an African-American woman, Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope. And Olivia is a successful, modern, independent woman, a leader in everything except matters of the heart.

The series has also asked a lot of questions about how far Americans should go in the name of security, and the dehumanizing effects of acts such as torture.

Cynical view of politics

But its biggest, and in many ways most disturbing, point may be its utterly cynical view of politics. While Rhimes has said she has seen every episode of “The West Wing” at least five times, “Scandal” is largely the opposite of that show. “The West Wing” had a certain idealism, especially when it came to what its characters believed, while the people of “Scandal” think they are principled but commit terrible acts, often in the name of self-preservation.

In a real world in which every side in political debate is prepared to assign the worst motives to the other side, “Scandal” says everyone is right, that politics is just as bitter and awful as you imagine. So even as you are wondering what will happen in Olivia’s love life, “Scandal” merrily satisfies the most cynical of viewing appetites.

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