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In Praise of ‘Scandal,’ My Escape From CNN

One of the most dramatic shows on TV is now more realistic than reality

02.23.17
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On a recent Thursday evening, I was in the middle of my #TGIT ritual: bowl of popcorn full, box of tissues at the ready for tears. On TV, Olivia Pope was glamorously stomping through another episode of Scandal, barking orders, playing fast and loose with the way due process actually works and rocking a series of ponchos that do nothing to hide star Kerry Washington’s pregnancy. And yes, I watch Scandal on live TV. I love it so much I can’t bear to wait. I love Shonda enough to watch commercials.

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(Spoilers ahead for those who aren’t caught up, btw.)

At some point during the episode, Olivia was trying to figure out how to prove that the Vice President-elect had murdered the President-elect and, in a separate plot, her ex-boyfriend, the President, was on a date with the Director of the FBI. None of this is out of the ordinary in Scandal world. In fact, I thought to myself, “It’s so nice to get a relief from the drama of the news.”

That’s right: Scandal has gone from the show that consistently raised my blood pressure with its stunts and hijinks to being the place I go to relax. In this new era of constant, high-tension news, watching Scandal is like taking an hour-long yoga class.

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I’m sure I don’t have to tell you there’s too much news. But I will anyway: There’s too much news. I can’t handle all this news. No, it’s not even news. It’s drama. The contentious presidential press conferences and Sunday morning interviews have been the most high-key shady, drama-filled experiences I’ve ever had. That’s impressive considering that I am friends with A LOT of drag queens.

The news media is not helping, either. Every CNN alert on my phone is basically like, “Bish, guess whet?!”

I need to update my notifications settings. Stop texting me, CNN. I don’t want to know the news anymore unless it’s something I HAVE to know. If there is a missile within restraining-order distance from my house, then you can send me a notification. And no clickbait headline, either. “You won’t believe how close this Russian missile is to your pantry.” No, just text me, “Bish, goodbye.”

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Within this maelstrom, one of the most bonkers shows on television appears like a port in the storm. Scandal suddenly seems cathartic. The rules of drama state that eventually, everything will have to be resolved. No matter the twists and turns, we can be sure that we’ll get all of our Scandal questions answered by the season finale. Well, most of them, at least. Shonda lives for a cliffhanger. But reality is all cliffhangers. 2017 is one big rock gym. I’m over it.

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While we were still settling in on our grips on this utterly ridiculous election news cycle, Scandal was already changing. Looking back, I realize there was a pivotal point where the show’s impact shifted for me. It came when Olivia was kidnapped in a plot orchestrated by another Vice President. She was sold on the black market, and then, after being freed, killed the Vice President with a chair.

I’m exhausted just writing that sentence.

In that moment, Scandal lost its last remaining purely good character. (And possibly its last remaining non-murderer. I can’t remember if the show’s First Lady has killed anyone, but let’s assume she has.)

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What started out as a series about a woman who was zealously committed to being a good guy became a rumination on the muddiness of intention, the complicated trade-off of public good and private behavior and the effectiveness of hitting people with metal chairs. In breaking Olivia, the show also broke itself and created something new: a respite from the insanity of real-life politics.

I can no longer assume that everyone will be good. This program can’t guarantee that everything will turn out alright. But every Thursday, I can count on flawed people who strive to be better. This is a show in which a plot about a murder conspiracy gets equal time with a plot about one assassin trying to ask another assassin to marry him. Yes, it’s absurd. Scandal hasn’t ever been realistic, but this season it’s gotten a little bit more real than reality feels. It’s a lovely respite, if only for an hour or so.

R. Eric Thomas is a playwright and person on the internet. He writes a daily humor column called “Eric Reads the News” on Elle.com. Read his Sunday Scaries diary for MR here.

Photos via Disney ABC Press.

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  • Aydan

    NO NEWS NOTIFICATIONS EVER! I honestly can’t do it. I can’t I can’t. I skim headlines. I read the articles I care about, but those stupid push notifications from news sources I will not activate. In this day and age, I don’t need that kind of negative interruption on my life!

    • rachel

      I can only get them from the AP because they’re so much more sedate than everywhere else.

  • MMR

    very very interesting piece! I have heard from several people your same observation on the show regarding the turning point being Olivia’s kidnapping season. great read!

  • And it didn’t come on last night