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A sisterly chat about ‘Scandal’

One of the great joys of my media-consumption life is chatting about that media — books, movies, TV shows — with my youngest sister, Kimberly. There is a 12-year age gap between us, so we didn’t grow up playing with the same toys or enjoying the same activities. But when she was around 11 years old, we began to bond over a shared love of books — “Harry Potter,” chief among them. Later, it was TV shows. I have a vivid memory of my then-12-year-old sister coming to visit me in North Carolina, when I introduced her to my latest obsession, the CW’s “Supernatural.” Each week, we would call each other after an episode aired and discuss it in detail, dissecting character motivations and plot developments. Flash forward to 2014, and my sister is now a 19-year-old freshman at Louisiana State University. One of our latest shared obsessions is ABC’s “Scandal,” and I decided it would be fun for us to chat about what’s happening on the show, and share it here. Below is a slightly edited transcript of our chat. (SPOILERS, of course, for the most recent episode of “Scandal.”)

(ABC/Ron Tom)

(ABC/Ron Tom)

Kayla: OK, there’s just one episode left before the season finale, and there are a lot of crazy things happening. Let’s start with what I thought was the most horrifying moment of the night: Cyrus Beene, the president’s chief of staff, learned a bomb was about to go off at a U.S. Senator’s funeral, likely leading to the convenient death of vice president / presidential race opponent Sally Langston, among hundreds of others, AND HE DIDN’T TELL ANYONE. Cyrus has always been a monster, but this seems like a dark moment, even for him.

Kimberly: Well, Cyrus has always been a cutthroat politician who does whatever it takes to get what he wants. I was honestly shocked by him doing this, though. I think that James was the only thing keeping him from boarding the crazy train, and now that he is gone, Cy’s only goal is to make sure Fitz wins the election. This really was the moment when we found out just how far he will go.

Kayla: Very true. Man, I miss James. He was one of the only sane people on this show! So, let’s talk about Olivia’s love life, because it is obviously one of the biggest sources of conflict on this show. I’ve never been a big fan of her and Fitz, and now it just seems like they’re going through the motions, because that’s what the show requires. You wrote a paper for your women’s and gender studies class this week on Liv’s relationships with the men in her life. What’s your take on the status of her relationship with the president?

Kimberly: Yeah, I agree with you that they seem to be just going through the motions. Their relationship is such a bore! I used to get all excited when they were together, but it is just getting old. All their “relationship” consists of now is Fitz yelling and whining when he doesn’t get his way. He acts like a toddler! Not to mention that their relationship is borderline abusive. I feel like he doesn’t really recognize that she is an actual human being apart from his personal fixer and mistress. He doesn’t care about her life! I’m hoping that once the election is over (whatever the outcome may be) that Liv will see her work at the White House is done. Then she can go be with Jake! Although their relationship is not perfect, Jake seems a much better choice for her. And of course, he’s a lot easier on the eyes than Fitz.

Kayla: Oh yes, I’m definitely Team Jake. My theory about Liv/Fitz is that deep down, she knows she can’t be with him, and she shouldn’t be with him. But she stays because if she doesn’t, how will she justify the horrible things she’s done? The lives she has ruined, the election she fixed — it’s all been in service of Fitz’s presidency. No one (except Cyrus) would be able to justify such despicable acts, if not for love. So if she’s not the Olivia who loves Fitzgerald Grant, then who is she? I think that question scares her more than anything else.

Let’s move on to other developments, and our predictions for the finale. Huck/Quinn — gross, or really gross? I know you disagree with me on this…

Kimberly: Huck/Quinn are kind of a weird thing with me. Before Huck turned her into a crazy, B-613 minion, I wanted them to be together. Now that they are both messed up in the head, it’s a little creepy. I would love for them to be together, but they need to tone it down a little. I mean he spit on her while they were getting hot and heavy. Who does that?! Overall: gross, but I still approve. I do have to point out that I am concerned with their relationship getting in the way of their skills. Since when has Huck let someone walk past him (Liv’s mom, especially in heels) and not notice?! Quinn and Huck being together also means that there will be a big showdown with Huck and Charlie. It won’t be pretty.

Kayla: My guess is one of those three is dead by the end of the season. So, who else is going to die in the finale? Sally Langston? Andrew Nichols, Fitz’s VP candidate who is in love with Mellie? Mellie herself? (Dear God no! I would have to stop watching. Mellie is the best.)

My money is on Andrew. I think Sally’s death would be too easy for Fitz. He coasts to re-election victory after the fixers around him take out BOTH of his opponents (Gov. Reston was taken down, Olivia Pope style, in last week’s episode)? No, he has done nothing to deserve a victory that easy. He should have to fight for it, and maybe, just maybe, lose.

Kimberly: For Mellie’s sake, I hope that Andrew doesn’t die! I like them together. Plus, that would be another way of Fitz not getting what he wants. He is a total hypocrite when it comes to them. “You’re not allowed to sleep with another man, but I’m allowed to sleep with Liv all I want!” That is total BS. Mellie has a way of getting what she wants, and I love her for that. She is an awesome First Lady. I agree that Sally dying would be to easy for Fitz. Whatever happens, I hope that Fitz has to bust his ass fighting for it. He gets everything handed to him (by Liv, Mellie, and Cyrus) and he needs to step up and be a man for once.

Kayla: Totally agree. And on that note, thank you, dear sister, for chatting with me about “Scandal.” I both dread and eagerly await Thursday night’s finale!

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The refreshing simplicity of Parenthood

Two shows I watch — Scandal and Parenthood — returned from hiatus this week, and I watched them both back-to-back. It was a jarring experience. Scandal is a show that relies on shocking twists and dramatic reveals. (General spoiler warning for anyone not caught up on the current season). The president is having an affair with his campaign manager! The vice president murdered her husband in a rage over his affair with another man! Olivia Pope’s mother is not dead! But she’s actually a terrorist! Fans have come to expect high melodrama from this show. And this week’s episode did not disappoint when it comes to over-the-top surprises.

Photo from the Parenthood episode "Just Like At Home," which aired Feb. 27. Courtesy of NBC.com.

Photo from the Parenthood episode “Just Like At Home,” which aired Feb. 27. Courtesy of NBC.com.

So it took me a few minutes to settle in and watch the Parenthood episode that awaited me. Here’s what happened on this week’s episode, in actual plot development: Julia’s kids went on their first weekend trip to their dad’s new apartment. Family slacker Crosby asked his dad why he wanted to sell the family home. College stud Drew broke up (sort of?) with his girlfriend, very nicely. And perpetual screw-up Sarah asked her colleague and ex-lover Hank not to edit some photos, and he did it anyway. She was mildly upset, and then he apologized.

Thrilling, edge-of-your-seat action, right?

Parenthood has never been about telling wacky stories or producing shocking twists. It has always been about telling the very basic stories of what average families go through (albeit, more beautiful, financially secure families with impossibly idyllic homes and lots of “first world problems.) It’s a show about how a marriage changes with children, how siblings relate to each other, how parents deal with their children’s growing pains, how grown children relate to their adult parents, or how difficult it can be when a marriage ends. Parenthood’s surprises come not from murderous plots or shocking betrayals, but from just how relatable these characters can be. Their hurts seem like our hurts. Their conversations sound like our conversations. Their celebrations feel like our celebrations. Problems aren’t just solved with a heart-to-heart chat with mom and dad at the end of the day — they reverberate throughout the show and through other characters, and they are given space to breathe. There is plenty of silliness and sometimes downright bizarre choices (the recent plotline of Kristina Braverman running for mayor comes to mind.) But ultimately, Parenthood is a joyous show, because it knows enough about families to capture what is both infuriating and invigorating about them.

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Game of Thrones effect vs. Scandal effect: To focus, or to Tweet?

Pop quiz: You sit down in front of your TV to watch a new episode of one of your favorite shows. Do you, A) Keep your phone in your lap so you can easily Tweet your reactions to every Oh-Em-Gee moment, or B) Commit everyone within a 5-mile radius to total silence so that you can focus on every word spoken by your favorite characters?

(stock photo)

(stock photo)

A new study by TiVo suggests that for most of us, the answer is closer to B than A. The digital video recording company asked both TiVo users and non-users about their watching habits and found that a full 3/4 of them (76 percent) prefer focusing on the tube than on any other distractions, including social media. The findings seemed to signal a win for the TV industry, which has in recent years tried (and sometimes failed) to provide interesting “second screen” experiences for viewers — from live polls to suggested Twitter hashtags. Perhaps no show has succeeded so thoroughly in creating a second-screen audience than Scandal, ABC’s political drama starring Kerry Washington that’s chock-full of more twists and turns than a Tilt-A-Whirl. Every week, thousands of fans live-Tweet the show, including its own stars, who are encouraged by the network to participate in the discussion. The show is so heavily live-Tweeted on Sunday nights that TV critic Willa Paskin at Slate was able to understand almost everything that happened in one episode just by following along online.

So is Scandal an anomaly of multitasked viewing? Perhaps. TiVo calls its findings the “Game of Thrones effect,” noting that HBO’s hit fantasy series has so many characters and such a complex plot, that viewers are loathe to turn away, even for a moment. A fully 73 percent of those surveyed said they agreed with the statement: “There are certain shows that are so important to me or so tricky to follow, I make sure not to do other things while I am watching them.”

Perhaps an explanation for this phenomenon is the DVR effect. Scandal is a show that has become one of the rare few that I will watch live, mostly because my Facebook and Twitter feeds will be full of spoilers regardless. That live viewing is a massive, shared experience, and it lends itself to community participation in ways that our more focused, private viewing does not. Other big, live TV events often see similar social media responses — think of the Super Bowl, or even NBC’s Sound of Music production in December. No one wants to read your shocked reactions to the Game of Thrones Red Wedding when you watch it three days later at 1 a.m., so you might as well put your phone down. You’ll need both hands to pick your jaw up off the floor anyway.

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