What is it?
It was sold to us as the next Revenge, a steamy tale of betrayal and power at the highest levels of office and politics. It is a weekly procedural show with a through-plot about our heroine's former/ongoing relationship with the President. What it really is, is a perfect demonstration of a network not trusting or respecting its viewers in terms of promotions or scheduling.
She's running, she's carrying, she's searching, she's talking really, really fast. And she is not our hero. She is Quinn and she arrives for a blind date that is really a job interview that is really a job offer and we quickly learn that her bravado is all show no substance, Harrison her conversational partner is also able to talk really, really fast, and that someone wants to be Aaron Sorkin.
Finally there is a dramatic pause in chatter after the words "Olivia Pope" - which it has to be said is quite an effective way of making her instantly important and clearly the hero of our show.
Then the verbal onslaught resumes, we say "gladiator in a suit" a lot and suddenly I feel a bit dirty. Seriously if the conversation keeps up this pace the series will be over in half an hour.
At this point I'm concerned that someone has mistaken the best aspects of Sorkin's West Wing as the pacy dialogue; it wasn't, it was the pacy substance. This negotiation feels a fraction false, and becomes clearly more so as Quinn is taken straight to her office so her cleavage can be commented on and she can effectively wear a hat saying "newbie" so that everyone can explain everything to her in her new office role of "excuse for exposition".
As such we learn that Olivia Pope runs this team of Gladiators in Suits (TM) who are lawyers, but not lawyers who go to court. They prevent their clients from having to go to court. Fixers with law degrees.
Then a guy - let's call him "problem of the week" - walks in and the format becomes clear as does the fact that Seven's trailer for this show was clearly creative in its portrayal of this show. Exciting camera angles aside, this feels a lot more like Lie to Me than Revenge just now, only with a smart, powerful female lead.
In fact, given that aspect and the fact that Grey's Anatomy show-runner Shonda Rhimes is behind this show, the Seven promos that split their time fairly evenly between sex and ripping off the trailer for Ben Affleck's new movie Argo, are a real disappointment. Surely a strong female character and a strong show were better selling points than Olivia Pope in a bra and shredded paper? Yes "sex sells", but in TV, just occasionally, so does "quality drama".
As I return from my moral highground musings, we meet the man destined to be our regular police officer and we HAVE WEST WING CROSSOVER people. It's Joshua Malina or Sam's replacement Will from the later series of The West Wing. Yay!
A quarter of an hour in we've slooowwwed right down, particularly in terms of the rapid fire dialogue and that's fine by me. We get a sequence of cleverly-shot stills from the crime scene, as the kooky camera work continues, then a montage to music of the evidence being assembled on the sort of office wall that is so old-fashioned you know it was expensive, and it becomes clear that this is a procedural dressed as something else entirely, possibly a gladiator in a suit.
***screech*** Then Olivia meets with the President and we're in a different show, one closer to the promos it must be said. Meet the through-plot, as this triumvirate of President, ex-staffer and seems-nice-but-I-bet-he's-not chief of staff get the band back together. They want Olivia back on their side. She's always on their side. Oh the banter! The chemistry! The blatantly given away in the promos plot twist that this is a prelude to. We learn the President is being pursued by a girl who claims he had an affair with her. Olivia will fix it.
"Paige is a whore!" screams the red-headed character who we don't know anything about but my notes tell me is named Abby. This is how we know we're back on the case of the week. Soon we learn that the military hero suspected of killing his girlfriend knew she was a whore. And he picked up the gun when he found her body.
Meanwhile Olivia goes to the park to destroy the girl who is walking a dog that she says the President gave her during their tumultuous affair. Bad dog.
By the halfway point in the episode, I think we've split into the three beats that the show is likely to riff off for the series. There's the case of the week which is at its natural "oh no we're going to lose" downturn. There's the ongoing chemistry, intrigue and one suspects betrayal between the President and Olivia. And there's Olivia fixing her people.
In the middle of what is a very busy day, Olivia pauses to help commitment-o-phobia guy (aka, Finch) choose from among a selection of costume jewellery rings to force him to propose to his girlfriend. Later she hides in the cloak room while he does so and she cries. Olivia is able to fix everyone's life but her own we learn.
Back to the case at hand and we have the crucial piece of evidence. This is the pilot episode, so it's sure to be a clever plot device.
Super clever. Highly original.
It's ... CCTV footage. Really? In 2012 we can still get 40 minutes into an episode about a crime and only then someone checks for cameras? Oh wait here's the twist, or should I say the not-so-straight plot development. The suspect has an alibi, but as he is a he, he won't ask him (or tell him) to come forward. It seems his dead girlfriend is now also his former beard. A beard trimmed to perfect military and political standards.
And now the show's about something else, again, as the girl-with-the-dog becomes the girl-who-attempted-suicide and Olivia works out that she was telling the truth when Quinn mentions the President's pet name for her. Pets. Dogs. There's a theme here.
Back to the political plotline, we learn that security in the White House is run by someone not very clever as there's a camera in the Oval Office ceiling which can be subverted by standing at the window sill and kissing. Thankfully Olivia and the President aren't very clever either as they step back into its view to continue their passionate arguing and fondling, before the fact that the room isn't sound proof (which is surprising) means the chief of staff storms in.
Cameras flash as our proud gay soldier is proud and free and honoured and photographed not being a murderer, yet good has not won entirely. Olivia's team are not pursuing the murderer, their job is done and Quinn our naive window to this new world is a fraction dismayed. Still she can take stock in the fact that Olivia is now standing up to the President who lied to her about giving that girl a dog (yes, that's a euphemism) and the fact that there's sure to be another case to not-quite-solve next week.
In a sentence
Though it clearly confused the Seven promo team who couldn't conceive of a show with a female lead that wasn't about sex and revenge, this is actually a promising variation on a procedural series that looks to have all the brains and strong female characters that should be expected from Shonda Rhimes.
Realising that this show is a lot cleverer than the network has given it, or the viewers, credit for. The trailer and time slot clearly hope to draw in the Revenge audience, yet unwilling to run the second series of Revenge (which has started in the US) or the third series of Downton Abbey (which has started in Britain) we get the first series of this show (whose second series just started in the US) in the hope we won't notice. Poor form from the network that the show rises above.
CCTV footage. It's all well and good to reinvent the procedural format by proving who didn't do it rather than who did and adding in complex series arcs, but I hope we get slightly better evidence twists as the series goes on.
Monday 9pm on Seven (though likely to be late due to X Factor)
How'd it rate?
On debut: 743,000 to rank 16th for Monday 15th despite having night-winning X Factor as a lead-in.
Worth watching again?
Yes. In fact the second episode will probably be a much better guide of what the series will be like.
B- for better than the soap opera shenanigans the promo promised.