Scandal's sixth season bears uncanny resemblance to real-life events in the US

Kerry Washington, who plays political fixer Olivia Pope (above) in Scandal.
Kerry Washington, who plays political fixer Olivia Pope (above) in Scandal.PHOTO: FOX INTERNATIONAL CHANNELS

Any semblance that TV drama Scandal has to real-life events unfolding in US politics is purely coincidental, says show's creator

The television show Scandal is often a soapy political melodrama with outlandish conspiracies, scandalous affairs and murderous politicians.

But some moments feel ripped from the headlines, as when the popular series ended its fifth season last year with former First Lady Mellie Grant (Bellamy Young) contesting the presidential election, just as another ex-First Lady, Mrs Hillary Clinton, was about to take on businessman Donald Trump in real life.

When the hit show returned for Season 6 last week, it was revealed that, like Mrs Clinton, Mellie had ended up losing the race by a whisker.

Yet showrunner Shonda Rhimes dismisses suggestions that there are any similarities between the two scenarios.

Speaking to a group of television critics in Los Angeles recently, she and the cast are asked, playfully, whether the character's loss "confirms Shonda is psychic".

The 47-year-old creator - who is also behind the popular long-running medical drama Grey's Anatomy (2005 to present) - insists she is not, adding that she believes "there aren't any similarities" between her fictional candidates and their real- world counterparts.

Whether or not the person who won the presidency is who I voted for, this is still my country and my country needs me. We need all of us.

KERRY WASHINGTON, who plays political fixer Olivia Pope in Scandal, who says speaking up for one's political beliefs is more important now in the wake of Mr Donald Trump's divisive win

"You can't correlate the two", she says, noting, for example, that while Mrs Clinton is a Democrat, Grant was the Republican candidate on the show and her opponent Francisco Vargas (Ricardo Chavira), "a hopeful and different Democrat".

Moreover, the first five episodes of the new season, including the premiere revealing the election result, were filmed between July and September last year, well before Mr Trump won the November polls.

But this is not to say that Scandal - which airs in Singapore on Star World (StarHub TV Channel 501, Singtel TV Channel 301) on Fridays at 9pm - will not continue to occasionally mirror real life.

In fact, Rhimes and the other writers seem to have a knack for foreshadowing actual political developments, say cast members Kerry Washington, 39, Tony Goldwyn, 56, and Young, 46.

Goldwyn, who plays former president Fitzgerald Grant, says: "Shonda and our writers seem to be very dialled into the zeitgeist and what's going on in the culture. And it's uncanny - often things happen in real life that have happened on Scandal.

"We had an episode in our second season about a man who worked for the NSA (National Security Agency), stole secrets and went on the run because he exposed a secret NSA programme to spy on American citizens. And then a year later, Edward Snowden did the same thing.

"So there are delicious comparisons. I just think the writers have a real ability to sense what's going on in our culture on a kind of primal level."

Washington, who plays political fixer Olivia Pope, adds: "Also, our writers do a lot of research. They read everything, so they're aware of the trends in thinking and ideas about what could possibly be. And then, some of it turns out to be."

There are obvious parallels between President Trump and the character of Hollis Doyle (Gregg Henry), an abrasive, villainous oil- billionaire-turned-politician who entered the Republican race last season.

But Young says that since Scandal premiered in 2012, Rhimes has "known all along where this story started and ended".

So Doyle was conceived "a good two years before Trump ever appeared, much less before the Trump candidacy", says the actress.

Any resemblance between Doyle and Trump early in the show was thus "just circumstantial", Young adds, although she and the cast confirm that the episode about Doyle that aired last year, titled Trump Card, was indeed about the realestate tycoon and then-Republican nominee.

For Goldwyn, the show is most realistic in its awareness of the fact that American democracy is very much a work in progress.

"The way it deals with our political life in America is a constant reminder of this ideal of what America represents and the paradox is that we can never live up to it - the only way our system works is if we're constantly challenged by it or challenging it and looking at the ways we're falling short," says the actor.

"With Trump's America and Mrs Clinton's, you have two completely different perspectives on what that means and yet we're all Americans trying to live up to this ideal. And right when we think we've achieved it, then all of a sudden, someone pokes a hole in that, or we do it ourselves with a self-inflicted wound.

"But the gift of that is that constant self-questioning. And I think that Shonda and our writers are constantly addressing that in the stories that they tell."

Washington admits that she has had to keep reminding herself of this since Mr Trump's divisive win, which she believes has made speaking up for one's political beliefs more important than ever.

The actress, who has a daughter, two, and a three-month-old son with football player Nnamdi Asomugha, 35, says: "I come from a very political family and before I worked in Fitz's White House on Scandal, I worked for the Obamas, so politics and activism are something that I was raised in.

"I had moments right after the election where it was very hard to download what was going on, but I feel like it's important to stay aware. Whether or not the person who won the presidency is who I voted for, this is still my country and my country needs me. We need all of us."

•Scandal Season 6 airs in Singapore on Star World (StarHub TV Channel 501, Singtel TV Channel 301) on Fridays at 9pm.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 01, 2017, with the headline 'Scandal not looking to mirror life'. Print Edition | Subscribe