Sunday, January 13, 2013

TV: The True Scandal

Some scandals are in your face.  "Lance Armstrong to Speak With Oprah Winfrey on Doping Scandal," "British Detective Found Guilty in Hacking Scandal," "Honduras Fires Ambassador in Prostitute Scandal," "Tunisian FM Accused in 'Sheraton-Gate' Scandal," "DEA agent linked to Columbia prostitution scandal in DOJ report," "Scandal of dehydrated pensioners rushed to hospital because their care homes did not give them a drink," "Texas military assault scandal prompts congressional hearings," and "Skiatook schools healing from bribery scandal" are just some of the ones that made into headlines in the last few days.   Other scandals are more duplicitous, more down-low and, as a result, more deadly.


If you're Olivia Pope, you're handling both of them.  Attempting to fix the p.r. on the crime of passion resulting in a media feeding frenzy and to bury the murder of a woman no one's noticed is dead as you try to protect the White House.

Pope, the lead character in ABC's Scandal (Thursday nights, last hour of prime time), is played by Kerry Washington. She's a fixer.  You come to her with a problem and she and her staff will try to fix it.  The staff includes attorney Harrison (Columbus Short), investigator Abby (Darby Stanchfield), attorney Quinn (Katie Lowes) and ex-CIA and Black Ops Huck (Guillermo Diaz).  Olivia was White House press secretary after she and White House Chief of Staff Cyrus (Jeff Perry) helped get Fitzgerald Thomas Grant III (Tony Goldwyn) elected President.  Cyrus brought her in when Fitz was losing in the primaries.  Olivia fixed the campaign, humanized Fitz, created warmth between him and his wife Mellie (Bellamy Young) and fell in love with Fitz in the process.  Abby has an on-again, off-again relationship with US Attorney David Rosen who was a friendly rival of Olivia's until they faced off over Quinn on trial for murder and David was clearly win the case until somehow, at the last moment, the case was tossed.

If it seems like we're going slowly, we are.  See Scandal's not just the success story of fall 2012, it's also providing quality story telling.  We waited for that to get noted last week.

But, of course,  we waited in vain.  Because?

Because Scandal stars a woman, because the show runner is a woman (Shonda Rhimes), probably because Kerry Washington and Shonda Rhimes are both African-American.

On the left, a woman has to work twice as hard to get half the recognition of a man.  The boyz and their female pets pretend like it's not so but check any left publication, any left broadcast show, you'll find men, men and more men.  The tokens know to keep their mouths shut and not rock the boat.

Take ridiculous Eve Ensler of the talking vagina fame.  She's just written another column about rape.  And she was deployed last fall to go after then-US House Rep Todd Akin last fall over the topic of rape.  But Ensler never said one word as two women, who may have been raped by Julian Assange, were demonized and attacked.  See, Todd Akin is a Republican.  So his words about rape warranted him being called out by Token Eve.   Julian Assange is the patriarchal left's glitter dream boy.  Eve knew to stay silent.  Eve Ensler, the original appendage, how aptly named.

In the Bully Boy Bush years, you saw this repeatedly at websites like BuzzFlash, for example.  It was time for the 'arts.'  So they'd link to this song against war (or 'against' war -- some were mighty weak) by this man or that man and ignore women completely.  If a TV show was seen as 'male' (The Practice, for example), they'd link to some passionate courtroom speech and applaud like crazy while ignoring ER's anti-war storyline or ignoring similar work to The Practice (if not better) being done on Judging Amy.  See Judging Amy and ER skewed female.

Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty is a film, a very good film.  The attacks on it?  We could dismiss it as differences of opinion in some cases and what happens when the uneducated try to do film criticism in other cases.  But these are attacks from the patriarchal left.  These attacks are about gender as surely as repeatedly refusing to applaud women are about gender.

The patriarchal left (which really is the left) isn't interested in women unless women can be used as a tool to beat up on their political enemies.

Which is how we get the silence on Scandal.

Back in December,  Huck was grabbed under the Patriot Act.  Last week, viewers found out what happened, Huck was taken to the Pentagon where he was tortured and beaten.  The scenes around that, the battles around that, were as riveting as the torture was horrifying.

When David Rosen first showed up to monitor the questioning, he was shocked by what was taking place.

David Rosen: He hasn't answered any of our questions yet.

US Government Official: He will.  They always do.  Eventually, they always do.

David Rosen: I'm just wondering about -- it really looks like he can't take much more of the water boarding, the interrogating.  And I'm wondering if maybe we want to do a little less interrogating and start thinking about his civil rights?  I'm a US Attorney, gentlemen.  I represent the United States of America.  The United States of America is in this room with you so you need to watch how you treat the prisoner on American soil.

US Government Official: I represent the CIA, the Department of Homeland Security, the Patriot Act and all the men and women who ever fought for your right to stand in this room with your glasses and your briefcase and to spout your crap.  We're not on American soil.  This is not America.  This is the Pentagon.  And that is an enemy combatant.  Son, I represent the United States, you understand?  The United States of America is in the room with you.  Your a guest here.  Shut your mouth.

For the Glenn Greenwald set -- light on facts, quick on judgment -- showrunner Shonda Rhimes must be endorsing torture!  According to those losers, portraying torture is wrong unless you have Rocky or Bullwinkle rush onscreen to declare, "Hey, boys and girls, torture is wrong.  And you should never ever torture.  Not a teacher, not a friend, not a stranger.  Torture is wrong."  Then you have the red-headed woman from Kids In The Hall run towards the camera and insist, "It's a fact!"

If you don't do those things, if you attempt to trust that the audience can find their own way, the patriarchal left insist you've endorsed torture.

It didn't endorse torture.  Rosen was plagued with guilt over what was taking place and sought advice from his boss who basically told him to shut up.  Though ordered not to talk about it, he went to Olivia Pope who he knew would be the one to figure out how to end it.

And she did, enlisting the aid of the acting president Sally Langston (Kate Burton) which allowed David to return to the Pentagon.

David Rosen:  Hello gentlemen.

Government Official:  Where the hell do you think you're going?

David Rosen:  Me?  I'm not going anywhere but you all might want to pack it in because fellas you're back on American soil. (handing a paper to CIA Interrogator) By executive order, this man is to be released.

CIA Interrogator: What?

David Rosen:  President Sally Langston has ordered that you stop torturing this United States citizen and let him go immediately.

Torture didn't work, torture wasn't going to work, a point Olivia made to the White House.

We searched in vain on World Can't Wait's website to see some applause for Shonda Rhimes.  We didn't see any.  They're happy to attack Kathryn Bigelow and Bigelow's film but they're happy to promote the pro-torture Homeland (because it's made by a man).   Some want to pretend it's not about gender.

But with the patriarchal left, it's always about gender.

On a recent press junket, Shonda Rhimes told reporters she didn't like Scandal being called a "guilty pleasure" because that implied that it was a bad show.  She's right about that but take a moment to ask yourself which shows get labeled "guilty pleasures"?

It's shows that skew women that get labeled that.

That tells you a great deal about the term and the gender bias.

Shonda Rhimes is overseeing a richly textured show, why should a show so filled with layers be considered less than some tired, sexist offering on AMC?

As we noted earlier, Olivia and President Grant became an item during the campaign.  She left the White House to end the affair.  That didn't quite take.  The start of the affair was only one story Rhimes chose to reveal in season two. 

That's also when we learned that Olivia, Cyrus, Mellie, Supreme Court Justice Verna Thornton (Debra Mooney) and lobbyist Hollis Doyle (Gregg Henry) conspired to get Fitz into the White House with a plot which included vote rigging via electronic voting machines. 

The plot to assassinate Fitz meant that the vote rigging scandal had to go to the backburner.  Verna was the one to figure out that Hollis was behind the assassination attempt.  That prompted Nellie, Thursday night, to forge Fitz's signature on a letter stating he was ready to be re-instated as president.  Only problem is, since being shot, Fitz had yet to awaken.  After Nellie's set this plan in motion -- she couldn't let Hollis run the country via Sally Langston, Cyrus and Olivia had little choice but to help her create the appearance that Fitz had recovered.  They maintained the charade even as Langston grew ever more suspicious, even as they tried to catch the assassin, even as Olivia stood firm against her lover, Senate Majority Leader Edison Davis (Norm Lewis) who demanded to see the president.

And then Mellie started to unravel, unsure of how long she could keep up the pretense.  Olivia let her have it, "Mellie, you need to pull it together.  You have one job: You're holding off Sally.  I'm doing everything else  so get a grip."  In fairness to Mellie, she's also in the last months of her pregnancy and probably would have preferred to have confided in anyone other than Olivia (she knows of the affair Olivia and Fitz had).

But Olivia truly was dealing with a lot.  The quieter scenes in the episode revolved around Cyrus and his husband James (Dan Bucatinksy) who are fighting and hoping to adopt.  Where is the promised baby, James wants to know?  Cyrus wants to know why James hasn't quit his job like they agreed he would?

A quiet moment for Olivia?  In her office having Quinn wanting to know why Hollis hasn't been arrested, why Olivia's covering for him when he ordered the hit on the president and, Quinn says, killed her boyfriend and others and tried to kill her?  What's going on?

For Olivia, that qualifies as a quiet moment.

For show runner Shonda Rhimes, this should qualify as satisfaction.  Scandal is a hit and it's also a first-rate riveting drama that doesn't shy away from the tough or the topical.  If she takes some time today, her birthday, to survey the landscape, we hope she realizes how much she's changed television.  She's not gotten the praise she deserves, not even half the praise she deserves -- and that's a true scandal.

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