To those who follow this column, it's no secret that I don't think highly of Shonda Rhimes, the creator of ABC's Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice. From her treatment of sex as important to drama to her uncalled for tweets against Bunheads, I think she is one of the most overrated writers on TV. But it wasn't until Entertainment Weekly published a column calling Scandal 'the best show on network TV' that I realized how truly screwed up our critique for TV has become.
I've been watching the show on and off ever since it's premiere last March, more out of morbid fascination than out of any appeal of it. There are many, many things wrong with this show, from it's faulty idea of what our two-party system is (Rhimes has clearly never met a Republican politician in her life) a pacing so lunatic, and plot shifts so rabid, it makes 24 and Homeland seem like documentaries, to the utter implausibility of any one element of the show when looked at closely, but if I were to try and focus on all of that, I'd be here all night. So I'm going to focus on one single element of the show, and what it seems to symbolize about Rhimes' view on how the political world works. I am talking, of course, about the cabal that has formed to steal the election of President Grant.
I've had a lot of trouble with plausibility of some of the things that Scandal has been doing. But perhaps the biggest shock came last November when it was finally realize that the cabal of Olivia, Cyrus, the First Lady, Verna, the Supreme Court justice, and Hollis Doyle had arranged a voting machine fraud that elected Fitzgerald Grant the President of the United States. Then we got all caught up the assassination attempt, the manhunt for the assassin, and the fact that the President was faking his recovery to keep the leadership away from the Vice President (and what does that say about how little these people value the chain of command) that we finally learned when it happened.
I was appalled to see that Shonda Rhimes thinks so little of the democratic process that she could create a scenario where five people get together to steal the Presidency, because this is how the process works. I could believe it of the First Lady, who doesn't seem to mind that the President has a mistress as long as she has her position, and of the Chief of Staff, a man so ruthless and cold-hearted, he had no problem letting seven people die in order to cover up his tracks, who was willing (til literally the last second) to have his lover killed rather than expose his perfidy. What I couldn't accept was that Olivia Pope, who has been set up as the hero of this entire series, the fixer, would allow herself to be behind a lie of this magnitude, because she was in love with the President. How can we root for a character who is willing to do this be considered a heroine?
For the briefest of moments, I withheld my commentary, because it seemed that Olivia had seen daylight, and was determined to let justice prevail, and the hell with the consequences. That just lasted until the next week, when we learned that the man we thought was responsible for the assassination attempt was in fact just a patsy. She then immediately did a 180 and completely agreed with Cyrus that the truth shouldn't come out because it would wreck the country.
Just consider that for a moment. A woman responsible for the greatest electoral fraud is history doesn't want the truth to come out because it would destroy people's faith in democracy. So it's alright to completely steal the Presidency of the United States as long as the President is a good man . It fairly takes your breath away.
All I could think of during the past few weeks was that Leo McGarrey and Joshua Lyman would have never done this for either Jed Bartlet or Matthew Santos. Hell, in the final episodes of the last season, given an opportunity to claim the White House in case of possible fraud, Josh persuasively argued they shouldn't even think of doing it.
And then it got even worse. David Rosen, the white knight who had been charging this attempt for weeks, went to his key witness, the reporter who found proof of the fraud, and who happened to be Cyrus' husband. Now Cyrus has spent the last few months manipulating and otherwise doing everything imaginable to crush the spirit of this guy--- he'd refused to let him adopt a baby, he wouldn't let him follow the Washington press beat, and well, he might have killed him, but for the grace of I don't know what. When they had their confrontation, Cyrus' sole defense seemed to be that he had the makings of being President of the United States,. but because he was homely and short and gay, he would never know any power. And the reporter, who'd spent weeks tracking the story, who was determined to stand firm even after receiving the baby (in exchange for resigning his job), and who said he wouldn't lie in front of a grand jury--- did exactly that. I know our press has taken a royal beating by just about everybody, but are we supposed to believe that we should surrender the abilities of the press in order for personal gain? But this is the morality that we find in Rhimes' universe, where it's okay to violate the ethics of medicine and kill a patient if you're in love with him.
And then she tears down that argument in the exact same episode. One of Olivia's associates Abby, had been sent to spy on David, started sleeping with him, eventually fell in love with him, but broke up with him, because Olivia who had been bugging David's apartment, didn't want her to get to close to the man she was about to break, and gave information that destroyed it. Abby finally found out about it in this episode, and when she turned on the villain in anger, was told that "we can't do what we do if we let our feelings get in the way." And apparently that was good enough for Abby, because she had no problem going to his apartment and stealing the one bit of evidence that David had left. Apparently, consistency is another one of those terms Rhimes has never heard of.
It's bad enough that Rhimes thinks so little of the morality in the average politico, and by extension the electorate, but she clearly cares nothing for how her characters do business. Something like this was ever present in the world of 24, but that show had the logic of taking place in so constrained a time period, that it could be forgiven. What are we supposed to think of a show that supposedly takes place in the 'actual' Washington?
I'll probably end up watching Scandal for the remainder of the season (I'm considering doing a story on it based on some of the characters in a different show), but I think that I now understand the idea of 'hate-watching' better than I did before. There are far better shows on network television even if they aren't nearly as popular, but if we have reached the point where we consider a show like this "the best", then maybe TV's a lot closer to being a 'vast wasteland' then we think.