Kerry Washington plays the much-feared Olivia Pope, a former White House aide who has gained a reputation as a clandestine cleaner of high-profile dirt.
Did your handsome trust-fund baby rape a drunk co-ed? Call Olivia Pope. Is your Oval Office occupant being harassed by a lovelorn junior staffer? Olivia Pope. Has the Russian mafia kidnapped your baby from the consulate? Police, nyet; Olivia, da! Did your much-medaled Iraq war hero shoot his fiancee in the head? Get Olivia on it, if for no other reason than for her remarkable ability to move about Washington with nary a thought to traffic or Metro escalator outages. The lady gets from Union Station to Georgetown in nanoseconds and always arrives with perfect, expensive hair that has never known the terror of a raindrop or 93 percent humidity. She struts her way into the White House with merely a box of cupcakes for the guard.
Without the need for me or anyone else to even try to intellectualize it, “Scandal” rather effortlessly launches itself with a strong black woman in the lead role. That elusive casting decision that networks claim is so hard to successfully accomplish? Well, it doesn’t look all that hard here. Washington is terrifically watchable in a coldhearted but complex way.
This is partly because of the source material. “Scandal” is loosely — I mean, looooooosely — based on the career of one Judy Smith, a real-life Washington PR expert who has guided clients through bombshells and bad press. She’s handled aspects of your basic corporate malfeasance, celebrity slip-up, Monica Lewinsky and Iran-Contra imbroglios and whatnot. But Smith apparently did so in a clandestine way all these years, without a fancy office or by calling attention to her persona.
Now, having rebranded herself as “America’s No. 1 Crisis Management Expert” (with a new book out, “Good Self, Bad Self: Transforming Your Worst Qualities Into Your Biggest Assets”), Smith would like a little of your attention. Serving as a producer on “Scandal” is just another step in that process.
I give “Scandal” points for explaining its set-up so well. Olivia’s company is not a law firm or PR firm, so what is it? It’s a lawless realm in which all things are possible.
Olivia sends one of her “gladiators in a suit,” Harrison (Columbus Short), to offer a job to a Capitol Hill newbie named Quinn (Katie Lowes), who stammers her acceptance and is then whisked away to Olivia’s lofty aerie, where she meets the rest of the strike team: a snippy investigator (Darby Stanchfield), an oddball hacker (Guillermo Diaz) and a smooth attorney (“Lost’s” Henry Ian Cusick). When a war hero-turned-celebrity-conservative-pundit shows up in their office with blood on his shirt and a dead girlfriend back home, they are so on it.