Tuesday, after streaming the entire first season on Netflx, I cannot say that I was much won over. The dialogue still felt forced to me. I’ve always loved Columbus Short as an actor, but he — for example — sounded like he was struggling to spit out rapid-fire bravado against his instincts. (“Gladiators in suits” is Scandal’s phrase that didn’t catch.) Some of the characters were obviously superfluous — a problem for which Scandal’s show runners course-corrected admirably in the second season. Others were waiting to ignite; kudos to the actor Jeff Perry for somehow making gay White House chief of staff and self-proclaimed “Republican overlord” Cyrus Beene into a believable human.
Scandal also suffered from the episodic approach that frequently weighs down dramas like this one in their first season. Seeing professional fixer Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) trust her unerring gut all the way to victory every episode was no more rewarding than watching Alicia Florrick and the gang at Lockhart Gardner sway juries with implausible evidence obtained at the last minute for the first season of The Good Wife.
Thankfully, much of Scandal’s weekly bullshit eventually fell away to reveal meatier, more deliciously absurd bullshit. Where, at first, it seemed like the scandal at the heart of the show was to be the lukewarm affair between Pope and McHandsome American President Fitzgerald “Fitz” Grant (what, was Hannibal Jefferson Starship Washington already taken?), a deeper conspiracy emerged involving election tampering and a ring of corrupt, self-righteous/self-serving politicians. There’s a lot more to it than that, and such is Scandal’s strength. Week after week, it stacks level upon level of heedlessly ridiculous plot twists on top of each other until the audience is waist-deep in kidnappings, presidential assassinations, post-coital hired killers, waterboarding and whatever else.