So, I’m a big fan of Shonda Rhimes’ Scandal. (I’ve written about the show before). I wouldn’t describe myself as obsessive exactly, but let’s just say, I haven’t missed an episode. If you haven’t watched the show before, in sum the story is as follows: the show focuses on Olivia Pope, an African-American ‘fixer’ and owner of Olivia Pope and Associates, a crisis management firm that gets important people out of trouble. Olivia used to serve as the White House Communications Director for the Republican (and married) President of the United States, Fitzgerald Grant, with whom she has had an on again/off again relationship. Their relationship is something of a star-crossed lovers, unfortunate timing given that you’re a sitting president and married kind of variety. Typical, right? It isn’t The West Wing, but it’s a fun political thriller with some light elements of soap opera thrown in to make the hearts of its many female viewers swoon.
While Scandal stories can sometimes – deliciously – stand on the precipice of plausibility, many aspects of the show are grounded in tropes that are identifiable to its audience. There are these little nuggets of truth, quotes that characters sometimes say under their breathe, sometimes in an offhanded way, but other times, purposely directed in such a way that you become more alert as you watch the show.
For me, it’s these little nuggets of truth that bring me back each week and keep me interested in how the show will progress. For example, this season, we learn more about Olivia’s backstory, particularly about her relationship with her father; a relationship made acrimonious when Olivia learns that her father doesn’t, in fact, work as a curator at the Smithsonian, but who orders the assassinations of enemies of America because he’s the head of a secret black ops agency. It is, obviously, an everyday run of the mill father-daughter relationship.
So, while that storyline is a bit on the outlandish side, there are zingers that come out of the mouth of Olivia’s father that serve to ground the show and that add weight to their fractious relationship.
In contrast to the unfortunate depictions of absentee African-American fathers, Olivia’s dad has always been around. Perhaps too much. He’s been strict and rigorous in the manner in which he has raised his daughter, a girl without a mother from the age of 12. He reprimands his adult daughter like she’s a wayward teen, and delivers a message that will be familiar to many in the Scandal audience. As he chastises her, he says, “You have to be twice as good as them to have half of what they have”. It’s a statement that many ethnic minorities or immigrants have heard from their parents – parents pushing their children to work hard, knowing firsthand that their difference (ethnic background, accent, skin colour) could act as barriers to their success. The statement alone is enough to tell the audience that Olivia was pushed (hard) towards excellence and to being above average.
So, even when the show veers on the unthinkable, it still manages to anchor itself in reality.
I know I’ll be coming back for more.