Written by Julie Balloo

Arts

Binging: Scandal

So, you’ve finished The Wire, Breaking Bad and The Killing but you’re still hungry for more boxsets. Fear not, Standard Issue writers are on the case with some hidden gems you might not yet have seen. This week, Julie Balloo is singing the praises of Scandal. Can you handle it?

Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope. Photo: Disney – ABC Domestic Television.

Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope. Photo: Disney – ABC Domestic Television.

The old man and I love a box set. It’s an extravaganza of endurance and so compulsive it can almost become a full-time job. We sink into the lounge – drinks and snacks at the ready and commit to hours and hours of great telly.

I came late to Scandal but after a couple of episodes it felt like I’d been reunited with an old friend. Created by Shonda Rimes, the award-winning screenwriter, director, producer and executive producer of Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal is a sophisticated political thriller set in Washington DC.

It centres on top spin doctor/PR fixer Olivia Pope, played with unbounded style by Kelly Washington who excelled as Broomhilda, Django’s wife in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained.

Olivia and her team – an eclectic mix of social outcasts and DIY Secret Service members – take on cases no-one else can handle and, since Olivia helped current Republican President Fitzgerald Grant into office, the team has exclusive insight into the White House.

Each member of Olivia Pope & Associates (OPA) has a secret connection with their boss, who found them at their rock bottom and lifted them up only to create the perfect PR team. Their unbridled loyalty of the team, who refer to themselves as her Gladiators, is the heart of the company.

The female characters are style icons: Olivia is a gorgeous-looking woman and always beautifully turned out. Pope has a penchant for good red wine and a jumbo glass is part of her evening routine as she answers her nightly call from her married lover. She is so petite she often looks as though she will fall into the glass and drown in Merlot. Unsurprisingly, she has the hearts and souls of two very powerful men.

President Fitzgerald Grant III aka Fitz (Tony Goldwyn) can’t live without her, plus there’s the younger, dishy Jake Ballard (Scott Foley). Ballard was once recruited by the highly trained and brutal B613, a squad of professional torturers lead by the ruthless Command, who also happens to be Olivia’s daddy. Trust me, after a few episodes all these characters will feel like old friends, albeit bloody scary friends.

Olivia meets with her daddy Ramon once a week for Sunday dinner and basks in his total devotion, refusing to see him for who he really is. They fall out and make up throughout the series and it’s impossible to second-guess the outcome for this dysfunctional family.

Yes, there is loads of hiding-behind-the-hands violence, but it goes with the territory that is Scandal, which is a cross between The West Wing, Dynasty and Sex and the City. We follow the private lives of the First Lady, the glamorous Melody ‘Mellie’, played by the elegant Bellamy Young, who spends her marriage competing for her husband’s attention as she struggles to win him back from the charismatic over-achiever Olivia. There is the complex and acerbic Chief of Staff Cyrus Beene, brilliantly played by Jeff Perry, who manages to keep his personal life in the closet while acting as confidant and right hand man to the President.

As well as the long-running love triangle between Mellie, Fitz and Liv, there is the constant campaign to keep Fitz in office. Each episode is self-contained, starting with a client who approaches OPA with a problem, which, at face value, appears unsolvable. It is invariably solved, which means Olivia gets to purse her lips and utter her confident catchphrase: “It’s handled!”

Ever present is the powerful Ramon Pope, a seemingly innocent museum curator who has deadly secrets. Plus, there’s Huck, the go-to interrogator who extracts forcible confessions but evokes ongoing sympathy as he’s a tragic victim himself.

There’s also an array of cameos. Including Friends star Lisa Kudrow as Congresswoman Josephine Marcus and Portia de Rossi as statuesque Elizabeth North, the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee.

All in all, Scandal is great entertainment and a welcome addition to my boxset menu. Would I recommend it? Consider it handled!

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Written by Julie Balloo

I am a former standup and now write stories and stage/radio scripts. My long- time collaborator is Jenny Eclair.