I am a black woman, and I don’t like “Scandal.”
Is this the queue for excommunication from black-ladydom?
To say I don’t like Scandal is actually disingenuous; I simply don’t care about it. I don’t watch it. I don’t even hate-watch it.
Okay, I hate-watched Thursday night’s season premiere, but that was merely for the purpose of this blog post. Before last night, I’d endured half of a particularly torturous second-season episode when I offered up my television to a friend who live-tweets the show for work.
I didn’t understand all the fuss. Why were my friends all so obsessed with this show?
“Why is everyone yelling,” I asked. “Why is everything so overt? Why does this show feel like an hour-long panic attack?”
“Yeah,” he said. “There isn’t really dialogue so much as there are characters talking at each other very quickly like they’re saying something important.”
Ohhh, that old trick. Ghost of Aaron Sorkin, is that you?
I tried to withhold judgement Thursday night, but some lines — entire scenarios, really — are so implausible, they must be camp.
“I am a monster,” says the president’s chief of staff as he’s trying to talk Olivia Pope out of disappearing to a far-off island. “But I’m your monster!”
I was supposed to laugh there, right?
This was preceded by one of those I’m-talking-very-quickly-because-this-is-important monologues from Olivia’s father, who has hired a private jet and created a new identity for her, is trying to force his daughter to vanish now that she has been publicly outed as the president’s mistress.
I’m sorry. Is there a deadline for disappearing into thin air? Are the privately commissioned pilot and jet going to take off without Olivia if her father tries to talk her into exile a little more slowly?
This is the moment when I come down off my cultural high horse and admit that I, too, have been sucked into a Shonda Rhimes show, just like the vast majority of the people populating my Thursday night Facebook and Twitter feeds. Before it jumped the shark, I openly admired “Grey’s Anatomy,” and then I watched and secretly hoped it would get better, and now I’m just clawing on till the bitter end because I can’t stop shipping Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh) and Owen Hunt (Kevin McKidd).
And that brings me to my real issue with the “Scandal,” which is that we’ve heaped upon it vastly more praise than it actually deserves, and tried desperately to label it brilliant television, all because of the sheer force of its Twitter-happy audience.
“Scandal” is not brilliant. It’s a mostly watchable, sometimes painfully acted nighttime soap opera with lots of suspenseful music dubbed over the dramatic bits, and that’s a perfectly acceptable thing for it to be.
But Emmy material? Err, folks, are we watching the same thing?
Look, I’m just as guilty as the next person of developing an irrational devotion to a show (see “Mad Men,” “Sherlock,” “Orange is the New Black”). But critics say we are experiencing another Golden Age of Television, and that raises the bar for everyone.
I harbor no strong feelings until I see “Scandal” compared with a show like “Mad Men,” as if they are on equal footing.That’s when I feel compelled to get up and shout: THEY ARE NOT, PEOPLE. THEY ARE NOT THE SAME. NOT BY A MILE, NOT EVEN A LITTLE BIT.
“Mad Men” is subtle, layered, measured, and deliberate. It is a show that communicates without screaming “THIS IS THE POINT! JUST IN CASE YOU MISSED IT! IT’S RIGHT HERE.” It requires you to do a little work, and that quality is lost on “Scandal.”
“Scandal’s” Internet devotees have ushered in a new way of making a show successful, and demanded that ABC and other networks take notice.
For networks, who are in the business of courting advertisers and taking their money, that’s fantastic, But popularity is not necessarily synonymous with quality.
It’s great that Kerry Washington is experiencing this phenomenal time in her career. It’s inexcusable that she’s the first black lead actress in a network drama in nearly 40 years, and that’s a big part of why black women are rooting for her so emphatically. We need her to be a success if we want to see more Kerry Washingtons on TV. Both she and Rhimes should be celebrated. Washington’s presence on our televisions and magazine covers carries real cultural capital, and Rhimes’s insistence on diverse casts does, too.
But let’s wait for something with a little more heft before we start crying foul, or worse, conspiracy theory, when “Scandal” doesn’t win Emmys (or even nominations, for that matter). There is no need to demand a Michelin star for what amounts to the television equivalent of Ben & Jerry’s.
The talent’s out there. I am desperately hoping that Rhimes is not just an anomaly, and that her success leads to networks taking more chances on talented minority show-runners. If it does, we need only wait for a 3-star show we can all clamor around.
Soraya Nadia McDonald is a Washington Post staff writer.