Kerry Washington is formidable in ABC's 'Scandal'

Posted: April 05, 2012

Scandal is the intriguing new drama from Grey's Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes. It's built around one of the strongest (in every sense) female characters to hit prime time in recent memory.

Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) is a former Oval Office insider who has formed a thriving, teeming crisis-management firm in Washington, D.C. With her frighteningly fast-talking staff (Henry Ian Cusick of Lost, Columbus Short, Darby Stanchfield, Katie Lowes, and Guillermo Diaz), she represents clients - a Russian diplomat, a Georgetown madame, a decorated military hero - caught in compromising positions.

The crisis team members are fixers. It helps that they know everyone in D.C., from the power players to the bellboys - including the U.S. attorney (Josh Molina), who is often Olivia's overmatched adversary. Fittingly, working for her is more of a religious calling than a job. Her devoted crew treats her with varying degrees of awe and works pretty much around the clock.

That demanding arrangement makes the attempt to shoehorn a personal subplot for one of them - usually romantic - into each episode rather conspicuous because none of them have off-hours. They're always sprinting around, talking really fast into their cellphones.

Olivia is strikingly formidable - omni-tasking, seeing through people, cannily negotiating and, oh yes, playing dirty when she has to. Washington plays her with fantastic brio. Even her stride is aggressive, like one of The Real Housewives of Atlanta on her way to confront a cheating lover.

The premise is apparently flexible. In the pilot, Olivia delivers this mission statement: "We keep our clients out of court." By the third episode, she's representing a rich, spoiled playboy who is being tried on rape charges. At least, she hires him "the best defense attorney in Washington," played by Curtis Armstrong. Really? The guy who played Booger in all the Revenge of the Nerds movies? He's the sharpest blade in a city lousy with lawyers?

About 40 minutes into the hour, the odds are always heavily stacked against Olivia. But then she pulls another stunning victory out of the fire. That makes Scandal reminiscent of nothing so much as House of Lies, Don Cheadle's current series on Showtime.

I suspect that Scandal, like House of Lies, will prove to be too contrived to crack my roster of weekly regulars. But it's energetic and inventive enough that I suggest you check it out. Maybe twice. Shonda Rhimes has certainly earned at least a second look.

Contact David Hiltbrand at 215-854-4552 or dhiltbrand@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @daveondemand_tv. Read his blog, "Dave on Demand," at www.philly.com/dod.


Television?Scandal?10 p.m. Thursday on 6ABC

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