Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice creator Shonda Rhimes takes on politics and the law in her new drama Scandal, but she manages to pretty quickly reduce both to the same kind of overwrought soap opera that dominates her other shows. When you have the president of the United States as a regular character and yet his primary function is to participate in an illicit love triangle, your show’s priorities are clearly out of whack.
Tony Goldwyn plays that philandering president, whose only political function seems to be repeatedly reminding other characters that he’s “the leader of the free world.” Distractingly, he’s not even the show’s main character—that’s Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington), a former White House staffer who now runs a crisis-management firm. She and her team of lawyers and investigators engage in behind-the-scenes maneuvering to resolve their clients’ unseemly dilemmas, which are fairly run-of-the-mill legal-drama situations. Washington is a strong actress, but it’s hard to imagine anyone convincingly pulling off Olivia the way Rhimes writes her, as an invincible superwoman who solves every case almost single-handedly and is never wrong.
Never wrong, that is, except when it comes to love, and as the show goes on, it becomes increasingly clear that the serviceable cases of the week are secondary to the romantic melodrama. Whenever the show approaches anything remotely political, it’s laughably inauthentic, and the characters’ personal lives aren’t compelling enough to compensate. An irritating visual style frames nearly every scene through reflective surfaces, as if trying to comment on the duplicitous nature of politics, but it’s just another diversion trying to make Scandal seem more profound than it really is.