This is a series that nobody asked for. Joshua Malina’s entire filmography, filled with dads, uncles, and lawyers (some of them dads and uncles) is not something that most people are interested in reading reviews of OR watching. Nonetheless, I have taken it upon myself to embark on this journey throughout my first year at Princeton. Seeing as it’s virtual, I doubt I’ll have many better things to do than watch Josh Malina’s work and then write about it.
As to why I decided that watching Josh Malina’s oeuvre was a good idea: it’s not. As to why I became a fan: reader, I think he’s cute. This is an unpopular opinion, and I understand and respect those who disagree with me, but I hope that reviewing his entire body of work will bring attention and appreciation to it. The man may bear a certain resemblance to Kermit the Frog and have gone to our sworn rival, Y*le, but his ability to play any brand of witty know-it-all and harp on people’s Twitter grammar is strangely enticing. I also won’t lie and say that his biceps circa 2004 don’t help his case a bit.
And although this started as a way for me to bring some fresh humor—what might constitute a bit of a jokey column—to the Nassau Weekly, I think my reviews will bring real critical merit to Princeton’s virtual campus. Malina is one of Aaron Sorkin’s favorite actors, having appeared in A Few Good Men, Sports Night, and The West Wing, among other Sorkin projects, and who doesn’t want a random teenager’s review of Sorkin’s work? Honestly, I think we could do with a bit of modern criticism of the themes and ideas expressed throughout Malina’s career, which has spanned (according to IMDb) from 1991 to the present.
So without further ado, here is the first of what I hope will be a long series of reviews featuring media in which Joshua Malina has appeared. I give you Oeuvre Reviews: Joshua Malina: Scandal Season 1.
Review (Spoilers ahead):
If you’re looking for a mentally stimulating show about life in Washington, D.C., the ideals and fallibilities of government, and staffers balancing their personal lives with intense work commitments, watch The West Wing, watch Madame Secretary, even watch Veep—just don’t watch Scandal. Shonda Rimes’s 2012 thriller is a soapy, melodramatic affair that makes grandiose claims about the duties of government officials while indulging in all-too-gratuitous sex scenes and somewhat-too-gory murder plots. There were far too many close-ups of dead bodies and not nearly enough of Josh Malina’s adorably froggy face.
Scandal’s first season packs so many plot twists into each of its seven 43-minute episodes that I got whiplash just thinking about the storyline. Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) is a “fixer” of the titular scandals—but not only does she fix scandals, she creates them. Her bygone affair with the bland, digestibly Republican occupant of the Oval Office (Tony Goldwyn) dominates the first season by way of flashbacks and longing glances, giving an already soapy show an extra level of Riverdale-ian drama.
Olivia’s extreme PR firm solves a scandal per episode, but the overarching plot is a contrived imitation of the Monica Lewinsky incident with some murder peppered in (Liza Well plays Monica stand-in Amanda Tanner). A background cast of Pope’s spunky employees (unfortunately, Josh Malina not among them) do what they can with the dialogue they’re given. Darby Stanchfield gives a particularly endearing performance as domestic abuse survivor Abby Whelan, and Katie Lowes is a perfectly acceptable audience stand-in as Quinn Perkins, the newbie to the firm who’s hiding a dark secret—one much worse and more dramatic than my Josh Malina obsession.
There’s also a lot of talk among the high-powered players in Washington about what it means to be a high-powered player in Washington, but it’s a little hard to focus on the duties of public servants when I’m still processing the back-to-back sex and murder scenes immediately preceding pale imitations of Sorkin’s famous walk-and-talk. In short, it’s not good writing. Washington’s Olivia Pope is multifaceted, but she’s the only character who is, and I would argue that it’s more a result of Washington’s performance than any of the dialogue she’s given. Josh Malina, of course, is as endearingly grumpy as ever, but even he cannot give a flat character dimension.
The dialogue, too, is flat and uninspired Chief of Staff Cyrus Beane (Jeff Perry) talks so much of a melodramatic war and political power plays that one understands his husband’s (a bland and unbelievable Dan Bucatinsky) gripes about the American government. This ideal-spewing isn’t limited just to the president and the other politicians (Bellamy Young as the FLOTUS, a wonderfully chilly Kate Burton as the born-again VP, and Matt Letscher as her vicious CoS) but spreads like a virus to Olivia Pope, her staff, and her friend the assistant Attorney General (Joshua Malina, who really should have had much more screen time). As much as I like watching idealistic blather come out of Malina’s little frog mouth, I really wish it was substantial enough to please my brain as well as my eyes.
I think the last straw for me was when they literally donned white gloves to clean up a crime scene “like some angels”—please, God, show me more heavy-handed imagery. I get it! Olivia and her crew make mistakes, but they’re the good guys! I’m no film concentrator (not that Princeton even has that major), but I feel like they didn’t need to hammer in the point quite so hard. The writers’ attempts to show the moral grayness of every character just come across as condescending. You don’t need to tell your audience that Olivia is the hero in this story—she’s already the protagonist, guys.
But now onto my favorite part: Joshua Malina! Mr. Malina gives, as always, a delightfully geeky performance in his recurring role throughout the season. His constant banging on Olivia’s door, with or without a warrant, makes for some fun banter between the two characters. It’s nice to watch two skilled actors interact in the sea of romantic subplots, and it’s always fun to see Malina play codgerly lawyers. I wish there had been more of him, but I hear he becomes a series regular in Season 2 (which is a whopping 22 episodes!).
Season 1 of Scandal, however, did not give me high hopes for the next six. I suppose it’s good for what it is—it’s not unbearable, and if you’re into steamy romance and murder plots, and perhaps a bit of bloviating about government, you’ll probably like it. But if that’s the best thing I can say about it, it’s probably not that good. ⅖ stars, would receive more if Josh Malina had featured more prominently. But I will persist and keep watching as long as I’m able! See you next time on: Oeuvre Reviews: Josh Malina.