When "Scandal" started this past spring, we watched it but chalked it up as another guilty-pleasure show under the Shonda Rhimes umbrella. You know, like "Grey's Anatomy" but with politics. But somewhere toward the end of its first season, the show turned up the heat and captured our attention. Unfortunately, many people tuned out before it got juicy, or they didn't even spare it a glance before writing it off as another Shonda soap. For those people, here's why it's worth a second look.
Olivia Pope is actually an awful person
Don't take that in a bad way. Our favorite shows are filled with antiheroes, and she's worthy of joining their ranks. We initially were blinded by Kerry Washington's insane beauty, but we went on to see her manipulate a president and an election, be complicit in a major cover-up involving one of her own staffers, ruin relationships to save herself, involve herself in an extramarital affair, and help some truly disgusting criminals. That highly touted white hat isn't looking so spotless now, is it?
They giveth and taketh away
We were bummed when Desmond -- er, Henry Ian Cusick -- left at the end of the first season (and his character got an offscreen farewell), but then they brought in Norm Lewis, fresh from his Tony-nominated performance in "Porgy & Bess" (where he starred alongside fellow Shonda alum Audra McDonald), and he's definitely filling the attractive-man void. Also added was "Everwood" alum Debra Mooney, who is great and brings out a new sympathetic quality in Olivia that we'd never seen before.
Olivia Pope's wardrobe
It's not just because Kerry Washington is stunning. OK, maybe a little. But her fashion is impeccable. The white and cream-colored clothes that she favors look absolutely amazing on her (who the hell can wear silk pants like that and make them work?), and miraculously they don't ever get dirty when she visits bloody crime scenes.
To say that things come from out of nowhere on this show is an understatement. The last few minutes almost every week leave us surprised and appropriately anxious for the next installment. They reveal little clues to the big mystery, or on occasion they surprise the hell out of us -- for example, with an assassination attempt on the president. The show's producers know how to grab our attention.
It's really hot in here
"Scandal" is downright sexy. Not just sexy in the hot on-call-room way of "Grey's," but grown-up, for-real, super sexy. Just thinking about the steamy scene with Fitz and Olivia and the tree is enough to make us blush. And it isn't just the two of them who have great chemistry: David and Abby had a pretty hot romp, and Olivia and dreamy Sen. Davis turn up the heat on the regular.
It's a Political Animal
While this show is no "West Wing," and doesn't try to be since it doesn't follow the day-to-day of the White House, it does live in the world of politics and focuses on all the messy stuff that happens there. Hosts of senators and congressmen are getting caught with their pants down and making chess moves to gain higher positions. And it's more exciting than "Political Animals" was.
The conspiracy runs deep
We thought that Quinn was a worthless character, but then we found out that maybe she bombed an office, or maybe she was just framed so that Olivia could rescue her and defend her and then take her under her wing. It's all super shady, but it makes us care a little bit about Quinn. And since the bombing may be tied to a voting machine that Olivia, Mellie, Cyrus, Verna, and Hollis are all hiding -- a machine that could have swayed the presidential election -- there are so many hidden layers here that we're excited to see uncovered.
David Rosen rules
We've long had affection for Josh Malina (since way back on "Sports Night" and "The West Wing"), and we're happy to see him here, especially in the second season. Originally, he was just the go-to guy who helped Olivia out of pickles, but his suspension after losing the Quinn case gave him time to grow as a character. He investigated why Olivia is at the epicenter of all the horrible things that are happening in Washington. And he even got a little love out of the deal before Olivia ruined that for him.
Cyrus and James forever
Sorry, Kurt and Blaine or Mitch and Cam, but these guys are quite possibly the cutest gay couple on TV. Sure, Cyrus is a workaholic who is never home and puts off having a baby, but he also likes to spend time gardening and bonding with his husband. And James might be trying to uncover a mystery that will surely land his husband in jail to further his own journalistic career, but he's also adorable. The two of them are weirdly compatible, and we really enjoy that their being together is mostly a non-issue for the show, even for blowhards like Hollis.
The fast talking
Some people hate it, but we love the rapid-fire dialogue on this show. It seems more natural than the slower, stilted conversations on so many other shows. And it adds to the effect that Olivia has no time to mess around. She means business, so she's quick and to the point and expects everyone else to follow suit.
The love quadrangle
Fitz and Mellie are married and having a baby, but they actively hate each other. Then you've got Fitz and Olivia, who are trying to stay apart but are still attracted to each other like magnets. Then there's Olivia and her new/old beau Edison, who are getting photographed in precarious positions by Fitz's spies. All makes for a lot of tension-filled scenes.
Huck's sordid past
Of all Olivia's employees, Huck's the one we are most fascinated by. He's a former gun for hire who seems conflicted about his love of killing people. Perhaps he needed Dexter's dad to give him advice on handling his Dark Passenger. But finding out more about the elite group of spies and assassins that Huck belonged to and seeing the criminal lengths he'll go to in order to protect Olivia have us beyond curious about his motives.
Beyond ripped from the headlines
While a lot of these stories about call girls and white-collar crimes have their basis in current events, there's usually something a little bit unique about these cases. We appreciate that even though there's usually a client of the week, the show keeps the focus on the ongoing plot, because that's what we all really care about.
Watch a preview of this week's episode: