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Dowd: A Washington 'scandal' shows the way

  • FILE - This undated publicity file photo released by ABC shows Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope in a scene from the “Scandal,” season finale Thursday, May 16, 2013. Cast members gathered for both a party and the unveiling of mannequins inspired by their characters in the windows of Saks Fifth Avenue Wednesday Oct. 2, 2013. (AP Photo/ABC, Richard Cartwright, File)

I'd heard about a medical malady you can get from watching too much cable news. You start feeling jittery and apprehensive about the future. But I'd never experienced it until a recent night, when I had to turn off the rant-around-the-clock shows reporting on political vandals vitiating the good name of a country they claim to love, scrapping in the weeds over nothing while dancing on the precipice of an international financial collapse.

I flipped around and paused at ABC's "Scandal." I'd never gotten into "Scandal" because it seemed too outlandishly over-the-top, a silly sex-and-murder-fueled Washington soap opera.

Shonda Rhimes took the story of Judy Smith, a deputy press secretary for Poppy Bush who became a crisis manager, and melded it with the story of Smith's most famous client, Monica Lewinsky.

Rhimes, who became wealthy by never underestimating the appetite of the American public for devilish, dervish plots, cut out the middleman — or middlewoman — and made the crisis manager the president's mistress.

I was about to keep flipping when I saw something soothing on "Scandal" that I had not seen in Washington in eons: acidic adversaries working together on a seeming Gordian knot and quickly settling on a compromise.

Suddenly, compared with the incredible, insane, illogical cliffhangers in the actual D.C., the ones in Rhimes' D.C. seem quite credible.

Kerry Washington's Olivia Pope, unmasked by the Washington Post at the end of last season as the president's girlfriend, opens her safe and takes out a folder with a code.

"The most infamous woman in America," as she's known, uses the "fire-alarm" password that her commander-in-chief lover had given her in case of a terrorist, chemical or nuclear attack. With that code, she's able to lure President Fitzgerald Grant and the first lady, Mellie, into the White House bunker. Once the unholy trinity is gathered, Olivia, wearing a killer white Burberry trench coat that signals her pursuit of "white hat" justice, demands that they hammer out a deal to save their reputations.

"We have a job to do here, and in order for me to do my part effectively," Olivia icily tells the manipulative Mellie, "I'm going to need you to refrain from referring to me as a whore — at least in front of my face."

That's the kind of dialogue I used to find irritatingly purple. But, suddenly, it sounded refreshingly sensible.


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