Premiering tonight on ABC is Shonda Rhimes latest TV venture Scandal, a promising new drama starring Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope, a former communications director for the U.S. president, who now makes her living using her people skills and legal expertise to do public relations work and fix problems for her high profile clientele.
The series premiere gets off to a solid start, introducing us to Olivia Pope through the eyes of Quinn Perkins (Katie Lowes), a young and motivated attorney who has just been brought on board Pope’s team. Lots of fast-talking explanation ensues, and Quinn soon learns that she’s about to become a “gladiator in a suit.” Once all of the introductions are made, the story really gets going. The episode is split between a man whose girlfriend is murdered, and an issue the President is having with a woman who claims to be having an affair with him. Having once worked with President Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn), Pope takes on that assignment directly, while also working with her team on the suspected murderer.
It’s through both of these cases that we begin to get to know who Olivia Pope really is as a woman on both a professional and personal level. Washington handles the role well, finding a balance between strength, poise and mostly concealed vulnerability.
One of Grey’s Anatomy’s biggest strengths is the way it uses the patients’ medical and personal issues to help progress the lead characters’ stories. A similar method may work here as the series premiere balances procedural elements with the cases, and a more serialized story as we come to know the characters.
If there’s one reservation I have about the concept of the series, it’s the way it mixes politics with an almost soap opera-esque drama. While the mix of drama and politics is part of the appeal of the show, and unavoidable given the setting and the work Olivia Pope does, there is the risk of drifting into cliched territory. There wasn’t anything that didn’t work about the pilot, and the stories come together nicely, but I do hope to see some creativity and originality with the way the series approaches the political side of the series.
One other minor complaint is that, with the exception of Quinn, I didn’t get the best read on the rest of the team. There’s a solid cast on board, from what I can tell, with Henry Ian Cusick, Columbus Short, Guillermo Diaz and Darby Stanchfield playing the various members of Pope’s staff, but it may take a little while for us to get to know them if the rest of the episodes are paced the way it was in the premiere. Then again, I definitely can’t fault Rhimes for focusing much of the pilot's attention on Pope. Kerry Washington is captivating in the lead, and definitely a strong card to play from the start. Hopefully we’ll get to know the rest of the team better as the series progresses.
Scandal has a lot going for it, including a strong female lead and an interesting concept. I’ll definitely stick with it to see where the story goes from here.
Scandal premieres Thursday, April 5 at 10:00 p.m., ET on ABC.