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Jeff Simon: Weekly explosions on 'Scandal' are about to be silenced

Her name is Judy Smith. Judy Who? you ask.

How quickly we forget.

Judy Smith was the Special Counsel and deputy press secretary to George H. W. Bush who was the original inspiration and model for Kerry Washington's Olivia Pope on the enormous Thursday night hit ABC TV show "Scandal." The final episode hits us this coming Thursday. Judging from last week's trailers for the finale, we're promised some wrenching confessionals of sin before congress and one big boom.

Literally. There will, before the final seconds, be more than a few metaphorical booms before them.

After leaving the G.H.W. Bush administration (where she was instrumental in getting the senate to confirm Clarence Thomas as the next Supreme Court Justice), Smith set up a crisis management business in D.C. where her clients included Monica "Blue Dress" Lewinsky, Michael "Fighting Dog" Vick and Wesley "Tax Evasion" Snipes.

The original game plan of "Scandal" seemed utterly irresistible to me: a heavily fictionalized Smith (Olivia Pope played by Kerry Washington) would handle a powerful or famous miscreant a week. Some poor devil caught with his or her pants down in the wrong place at the right time would be led by Pope into the Promised Land of American Esteem again. (Snipes is back in movies, Lewinsky writes rather brilliant cogitations on American fame and humiliation and Vick played NFL football again.

I love stories about "fixers." It's a great American occupation, one that until recently was much avoided. In Hollywood, fixers are key to everything running smoothly. The most famous fixer in Hollywood history was Eddie Mannix, the fellow at MGM in charge of all those errant zippers and dicey personal habits who needed safe and discreet passage through the obstacle-ridden domains of law enforcement and public renown.

Among other things that the fixer's job required were the occasional bit of thuggery.

Usually the most famous fixers were also lawyers, like Judy Smith and Olivia Pope - and Michael Cohen.

Once TV discovered the job of fixers, we got Olivia on ABC, "Ray Donovan" on Showtime and, in moviehouses, "Michael Clayton" in the George Clooney movie of the same name.

That would have made "Scandal" a wonderful TV show but also a limited one. Instead, the show's inventor and overseer Shonda Rhimes vaulted it into TV immortality by blowing up the plot almost every week and having her cast of oval office denizens and courtiers do all kinds of extreme and nutso things.

Soon, the president of the United States was murdering a Supreme Court Justice in her hospital bed. Olivia was kidnapped so that her lover the president had to declare war to retrieve her, only to have her beat a guy to death with a chair.

And, most lunatic and Baroque of all, we learned about a secret agency called B-613, whose head was called Command. The first Command was played by Joe Morton, a character actor I've cherished ever since he was so brilliant in John Sayles' "The Brother From Another Planet." The next Command was Olivia. The current Command is Admiral Jake Ballard, played with doofus earnestness by Scott Foley ("Felicity," "Grey's Anatomy"). It's his job on the show to be perennially incapable of getting with Rhimes' crazy program.

The President's chief of staff (Jeff Perry) is perhaps the most murderous thug of them all which, of course, is how he became vice president and a presidential contender.

Morton's advent was when I officially fell head over heels in love with "Scandal" after only being attracted to its premise. It's not because the show turned into something that is, in any way good, but because it was becoming the next best thing--wildly, insanely, charismatically, improvisationally free. "Scandal" became the TV writer's room version of jazz. Or basketball.

Nothing in "Scandal" was more charismatic than Morton's performance. It has been so full of blistering, spitting eloquence so often that in 2014 he won a well-deserved Emmy for it. On the show's final season, its next-to-last episode (that is, last Thursday) featured one of the show's finest contemptuous arias ever when Morton dressed down  Foley's character as the ambitious weak-kneed buffoon he's always been.

In another splendid moment last week, one of Olivia business buddies--who are self-styled "gladiators" on the show--told the new female president how utterly awful was everyone she knew (in other words, everyone on the show).

You're all "sharks" said Marcus with nothing but accuracy and chutzpah on his side. Marcus is played by Cornelius Smith Jr., an actor who doesn't begin to have Morton's horsepower but then he didn't need it. His big scene on the show was  well-written enough to require no extra oomph whatsoever.

Those keeping score at home all these years have long noticed that all the magnificent explosions of rhetorical pique and contempt on the show  have always been given to the show's actors of color--Washington, Morton, Smith. The only exceptions have been Jeff Perry and Bellamy Young, as the former first lady and current president. It is no accident that in Shondaland, those whom television history has slighted with rhetorical firepower have been rewarded  in accordance with their past deprivation.

No one else on the show has ever been able to match Morton on a rhetorical roll. It's the difference between watching an NBA role player have a pretty good game and watching LeBron James or Kobe Bryant score 50 points by half time.

So let us all get ready for the finale of television's most distinctive and influential network fantasies--an amazing piece of millennial narrative improv whose Washington, D C. disorder has always been increasingly ridiculous and just as increasingly parallel to the ridiculousness that has taken over the town with the newest presidential administration.

Are Rhimes and Co. now telling us they just can't compete with the baroque lunacy of reality in Washington? Has reality made a mockery of all the nuttiest pulp and zigzag homicidal plotting in prime time history?

I wouldn't doubt it.

Get this now: on last week's river of angry verbiage we heard, in passing, Olivia explain to a special prosecutor that America is so corrupt that something called B-613 is part of a "deep state" apparatus that must be destroyed in order for "we the people" to triumph once again.

Could it be that "Scandal" picked up an idea from Donald Trump and Steve Bannon? Judy Smith, let's remember, not only served in a Republican administration but is still an executive producer on the show.

Nuttiness beyond belief, I say gratefully, leading to Thursday's finale.

I honestly can't tell you how much I'm going to miss it when it's gone.

 

 

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