'Scandal' Review: An Efficient Political Soap Opera From 'Grey's Anatomy' Creator

It's probably a good sign that I can already picture a crossover between "Revenge," television's highest thread-count soap opera, and "Scandal" (10 p.m. ET, Thursday, ABC), another drama with a single-word title, many characters who wear high heels and a lot of ladies whom you really don't want to cross.

I can just picture "Revenge" diva Victoria Grayson hiring high-powered crisis manager Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) to clean up some family member's expensive mistake. Or better yet, Pope and Grayson could be on opposite sides of some tabloid brouhaha, and ideally would pause their verbal sparring only long enough to trade icy stares across expensively furnished board rooms. Just think about it, ABC ... that's all I'm saying.

"Scandal" isn't quite as delicious as "Revenge" (which finally returns after an almost eternal break April 18). But there are certain things "Scandal" creator Shonda Rhimes does well, and most of those things are on display in this solid new ABC show, which is set among the power players of Washington, DC.

Olivia's speciality is heading off or eliminating crises for the rich, famous and powerful, but Rhimes is smart enough to know that her particular brand of soap doesn't work without underdogs to root for and secret crushes that occasionally make these tough characters seem vulnerable (if only for half a second).

It's actually in the underdog realm that "Scandal" falters; Katie Lowes plays Quinn Perkins, a new employee at Pope's firm. We're given no reason as to why the timid, bland Quinn was hired by Olivia, a superstar in her field. We're told, in the show's clunkiest dialogue, that Quinn's apparently damaged in some way and thus appeals to Olivia's fixer personality. The allegedly damaged Quinn makes absolutely no impression whatsoever, but then, the main function of the character is to look slack-jawed at Olivia, marveling at her take-charge, take-no-prisoners methods. I half expected her to say, "Golly gee, Olivia! That's not how we did it back in Iowa!" at some point, but maybe we just have to wait for that.

Among the supporting characters, Henry Ian Cusick ("Lost's" impassioned Desmond) and Joshua Malina (the versatile "West Wing" actor who must, by law, guest star on every show) fare better as Olivia's right-hand man and her district-attorney frenemy, respectively. The rest of the characters in Olivia's office don't stand out in the first three episode (not even the secret crush one staffer has on another, a move from the "Grey's Anatomy" playbook, is all that interesting). Perhaps part of the problem is that they're just one-dimensional placeholders in the early outings. A bigger problem is that there is another set of characters who are simply more interesting.

Before she opened her own firm, Olivia was the White House's fixer, and her ties to President Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn) and his chief of staff, Cyrus Beene (Jeff Perry) are deep and complicated. It's in the White House storylines that "Scandal" strays enjoyably into "Revenge" territory; there's an ongoing story about a secret that could be very damaging to the president, and Olivia is too involved in all of that problem's permutations to trust her famously infallible gut instincts. Maybe it's not quite "Revenge: The Presidential Years," but Washington, Goldwyn and Perry spark nicely off each other, and there are plenty of juicy twists and turns in that potential scandal.

Even if the dialogue is clunky and a little too on-the-nose on occasion ("I'd do my job really well if you just tell me what's going on!" Quinn wails at one point), at least the words rush by quickly; this is a show in which people rarely sit down, there are a lot of walking-and-talking scenes and the camera swirls around in an almost hyperactive manner. Olivia Pope has places to be, people, and we had just better keep up.

Washington does a good job of carrying every story along in her energetic wake, and even if "Scandal" isn't quite as instantly addictive as "Grey's Anatomy" was back in the day, this is a well-paced, generally well-acted show with some promising elements (though there is also an occasional tendency to offer contrived redemptions that don't make a ton of sense).

Still, I'm willing to give "Scandal" a chance to win me over more completely. In its early days, the medical case of the week was often the best part of "Grey's," but here, I actually wouldn't mind seeing more of the ongoing presidential problems. "Scandal's" crises are hit or miss so far, but there's lots of chemistry in the White House mess.