A weekly digest of varied conversational musings on day-to-day life, society & whatever the world throws our way.

Posts tagged ‘Television’

Daddy Issues

Daddy Issues PicSo, 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.

Signing off,

Y.

You Must Be Olivia Pope

I’ve noticed a few discernible differences in season two of Shonda Rhimes’ television show Scandal. For those who have not been watching the drama, Scandal features, as its main protagonist, a woman named Olivia Pope who works as a ‘fixer’ in Washington, D.C. When the big names are in trouble (be they elected officials or CEOs of companies) they run to Olivia to sort out their problems and to handle the media and publicity machine. In addition to being a ‘fixer’, Olivia is also involved in a sordid romantic relationship with the president of the United States, who she helped -through fairly nefarious means – to win the presidential election.

942656195_7eb2b77d2e_oWhile the wheeling and dealing and fast-talking and fast-walking that are the staples of the show are fascinating in and of themselves, what’s most striking about the show is how race is simultaneously discussed and not discussed at all.

Olivia Pope – based on a real life figure, Judy Smith, a former press aide in the George Bush administration- has managed to reach, interact with, and influence individuals at the highest echelons of power. She manages to do this not only as a woman, and sartorially elegant in designer wear, but also as a person of colour. To be a woman of colour and to have achieved the success necessary to play with and push the big wigs, she must be good – extremely, terrifically exceptional that is. While season one made no direct mentions of Olivia’s race (although it should be said, given the visual medium that is television, her race is obvious for all to see), season two has dipped its toes in the bucket of American colour politics on a few occasions.

In “Happy Birthday, Mister President” a flashback episode, we witness the complexities of being ‘the other woman’, particularly complex when Olivia Pope, ‘the other woman’, or mistress, is black and her partner in matrimonial crime is the Republican president of the United States, Fitzgerald Grant, who happens to be white. Olivia, in a fit of frustration with their act of creeping around, declares to Fitz that she’s” feeling a little Sally Hemmings-Thomas Jefferson” about their situation. It’s a seemingly one-off line, but there is so much richness, history, and truth behind her comments. As the mistress – even one who is described as the love of Fitz’s life – she cannot occupy the main stage of her lover’s life. Her name will never be found indelibly etched beside his in the history books when the president’s life is accounted for – his wife will hold that spot. Unlike Sally, Olivia is not legislatively or socially enslaved – she lives in a different historical context. But, while she may have significant economic and political power, at the end of the day she’s not so different from Sally. She’s just one in a long series of black women in the tangled history of the United States, involved with a white man who holds most of the power and who can never really be hers.

The fact that Fitz is a white Republican makes the Olivia-Fitz relationship especially captivating and serves as a ripe foundation from which to build storylines for the show. Fitz, in the aftermath of surviving an assassination attempt, seems to ‘see the light’ and feels invincible and declares that he wants to divorce his (white), pregnant wife, in order to pursue his relationship with Olivia. In response, his chief of staff, Cyrus Beene, states, “‘Liv is a lovely, smart woman… but she’s not exactly a hue that most of your Republican constituents would be happy about.” Hmmm. Le plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…

The latest episode “Top of the Hour”, deals deftly with the topic of race without so much as a word. It touches on the judgments and assumptions many of us make about who we see as naturally filling powerful roles. Olivia comes to the rescue of a female CEO, arriving at this woman’s home with a few members of her entourage: Abby (a pretty redhead) and Harrison (the black male lawyer in Olivia’s company). The CEO has never heard of or seen Olivia Pope before. She immediately walks up to Abby and says, “You must be Olivia Pope”. Before she can shake Abby’s hand, however, the real Olivia interjects, shakes her hand and says, “I’m Olivia Pope”, while Abby and Harrison give each other knowing looks in the background.

No one dwells on the moment, because it’s time to get to the work at hand. But it is truly priceless.

Signing off.

Y.

Mindy Kaling: Why This Girl is The Bee’s Knees

386px-MindyKaling08I’m loving Mindy Kaling’s new show, The Mindy Project. Prior to the show, I knew of Mindy more by name as I was never a loyal viewer of The Office, but the little I had seen of her, I liked. Her show is seriously funny (it’s like a serial rom-com), and it’s witty and spot-on. I’m hoping that the show progresses in such a way that it will earn my commitment and devotion (and that of many other loyal viewers), because there’s a large part of me that hopes that Mindy Kaling becomes a huge name a la Tina Fey and experiences great success.

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