Wednesday, September 30, 2015
Rulebook Casefile: Art vs. Entertainment in the “Scandal” Pilot
I’ve said before that the real difference between art and entertainment is that the latter is concerned with intended consequences (think “CSI” and “House”) and the former with unintended (and ironic) consequences (think “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad”). So which is “Scandal”? As usual, Rhimes is determined to be both.
The storylines in the pilot have deeply ironic relationships to each other. In one, she has to convince a conservative hero to come out as gay to confirm his alibi at the time of a murder. In the other, she threatens the president’s mistress with humiliation if she comes forward.
If these two storylines were simply juxtaposed, it would feel darker and more ironic, making it more of an arty show, but the show is lifted back up into the realm of entertainment because one finale triggers the other: It’s only after confronting the president that she’s able to tell the war hero what he needs to hear.
So Olivia has restored a chain of intended consequences (she resolves the case-of-the-week thanks to what she learned from the ongoing story), but she does so using a deeply ironic “inspirational” speech that’s actually borne of her own self-loathing and chaotic downward spiral. Olivia tries to harness the irony of her life in order to keep control, but it’s obvious that she’s not really succeeding.
In other words, it’s a volatile mix of art and entertainment, and that friction actually deepens the show. In other hands, this would be an unstable template for an ongoing series, but it’s right where Rhimes wants to be.