Shonda Rhimes has become one of the most powerful and well-respected women in television. With shows like ‘Grey’s Anatomy’, ‘Scandal’ and ‘How to Get Away with Murder’ she’s formed a line up so strong it has its own evening and promotional tagline that suggest they are heaven-sent! All of these shows have been that good at some points in their run, but sadly not all of them are maintaining that high standard consistently.
The least adored of Shonda’s productions, the now gone ‘Private Practice’ still made it to a very respectable 112 episodes, obviously aided by the slingshot effect of being a spin-off from ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and regularly being able to crossover with it. ‘Scandal’ at first, especially with the first VERY short season, felt like a fresh and interesting idea, the lead character being a ‘fixer’ in Washington D.C. was a setting that offered much variety and interest. Sadly now, that show has gotten quite far from the promising beginnings, putting what was an interesting background story arc so far into the forefront that it dominates each and every episode making you forget that the rest is even there at all. However it was the episodic challenges that used to offer such variety and ever-changing drama, especially when used to such powerful effect as it was once last season with a racially motivated police shooting storyline that drew on real events but managed to do so in a powerful and well-judged way. This season it tried to do the same, drawing upon a slightly older incident, the death of Princess Diana. Whereas once it had handled a difficult issue well, this time it failed miserably, not just making it tedious, but also turning the issue around to reflect Olivia’s life and in the end be all about her.
‘Grey’s Anatomy’ still holds my interest, though it wavers at times and the last few seasons have had to rely on huge cast changes, shake ups and a few notable losses, it still manages to be pretty solidly written and when episodes go for spectacle or emotional heft, they usually find their mark. Usually mid-season or season endings come with an episode or two that are of greater personal or narrative magnitude, such as a key death, shooting, or disaster, sometimes a few of these at the same time. The latest episode was superb in the way that it took a break from the hospital setting to really bring a number of narrative threads together over the dinner table, developing situations being brought to new levels and new issues exploding and establishing at least one new major plot point for the season ahead. I thought it was one of the best episodes in a while and a good example of the show making full use of the emotional kudos it has built with the fan base.
‘How to get away with Murder’ is still new, and with the exception of a few shaky moments, it has been very different from most other shows currently on the air and brilliantly blended the legal drama and murder mystery threads both of which I’ve been very interested by. Even this show has its issues though, especially with an over-reliance on steamy sex scenes that would put the other two to shame, and the most recent episode in which one character falsely confesses to murder with the also false defence that she was being raped, and then later in the episode is an impassioned criticism of how people don’t believe women when they testify against men. You can’t decry the injustice of women not being believed when they report rape while at the same time having a character wrap one lie within a false claim of rape. This is exactly the type of issue these shows should address, but in this instance it’s being handled in a way that completely undermines any valid point being conveyed. Please sort it out Shonda!
‘Scandal’ however, especially last year, felt like the third wheel, the tag along on a date in which the two main players were very much loved up, the trusty ‘Grey’s’ and the new passion of ‘How to Get Away With Murder’. Scandal took a nose dive in plot, resorting to such contrivances I was almost certain it would get axed by losing all the fans as they couldn’t be bothered with this show that was so far away from where it started, and the lead who was meant to be this bold, admirable, independent woman yet kept flip-flopping in her affections through the season in a way that was neither bold nor admirable. and undermined her independence as she kept needing rescuing from more and more far-fetched situations. Sadly the flip-flopping hasn’t ended, with a few episodes this season (one in particular) trying to pass it off as twists as the situation developed, but really making Olivia look quite weak and fickle. There’s a point at which it becomes annoying and detrimental to the story, that point is long past!
Rhimes should be proud of having a whole Thursday night line up of shows, that would be quite an achievement for any TV producer, but wouldn’t it be better if they were all, well, better? I’d like to see these shows and their leading ladies all get back on their feet, because when they’re at their best they really are quite excellent and imagine what a superb Thursday night line-up three hours of genuinely strong and decisive woman could be. Maybe they could all do with a bit more Christina Yang, coming along to tell them to pull it together and then dance it out!