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Scott D. Pierce: ‘Scandal’ is just awful, which is why I watch it every week

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Darby Stanchfield stars as Abby Whelan in "Scandal."

By Scott D. Pierce

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Feb 16 2013 01:01AM
Updated May 21, 2013 11:33PM

Uh, oh. Super producer Shonda Rhimes ("Grey’s Anatomy") is mad at me.

Not because I was far from enthusiastic about her series "Scandal" when it debuted, calling it "ludicrous." Since then, I’ve become a huge fan of the show (Thursdays, 9 p.m., Channel 4) — for the wrong reasons, apparently.

"I’m OK with anybody loving the show for any reason they want to, as long as they don’t say that it’s a guilty pleasure," Rhimes said on the set of "Scandal."

Uh, oh. As far as I’m concerned, it’s totally a guilty pleasure. It’s so crazy, so over-the-top, so ridiculous — but I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Rhimes, however, would prefer that we watch the show guilt-free. "When you call a show a guilty pleasure, basically you’re saying it’s crap — but I can’t stop watching it," Rhimes said. "But if they say they love the show because it’s bonkers, that’s fine."

OK, then, let’s call it bonkers. Hyper-kinetic insanity, including when first lady Mellie Grant (Bellamy Young) forged a letter falsely asserting that President Grant (Tony Goldwyn) was no longer comatose after getting shot in the head — a plot to get Vice President Langston (Kate Burton) out of the Oval Office. And that was just one episode.

We’ve spent most of this season dealing with the ramifications of how Grant got to the White House in the first place. That is, after his wife; mistress, Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington), chief of staff, Cyrus Beene (Jeff Perry); Supreme Court justice Verna Thornton (Debra Mooney); and evil magnate Hollis Doyle (Gregg Henry) conspired to rig voting machines and steal the election.

Turned out it was the Supreme Court justice who tried to have the president assassinated, and he returned the favor by hastening her death.

"We’ve never wanted the show to be 100 percent real," understated Rhimes, who prefers to think of it as "high drama."

Let’s return to the use of the word "bonkers," which would be more accurate.

Perry sees Rhimes as a modern-day Dickens or Shakespeare — a populist writer who reaches out and grabs the audience.

"A lot of times Shakespeare was not subtle," he said. "[‘Scandal’] pushes boundaries. Credibility’s on the tip of my tongue. But at the same time, even when we’re given sort of bizarre things to do, I can sort of figure out pragmatic and emotional reasons why they’re happening."

Darby Stanchfield, who plays Olivia’s associate, Abby Whelman, said cast members "take it on like it’s real. We fully invest. And I think that also has something to do with that sort of plausibility of the craziness."

Calling "Scandal" crazy is OK. Just don’t call it a guilty pleasure.

"It’s not that I don’t want you to enjoy yourself watching it," Rhimes said. "There’s no rule that says you can’t."

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.

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