strange bedfellows

Homeland vs. Scandal: Battle of the Political Soaps

Photo: ABC, Showtime

One show’s a high-end drama with the Emmys to prove it. One’s a soapy underdog just starting to gain traction. They’re both political stories with assassination attempts and scheming politicos, highly trained snipers, and more pantsuits than any sane person would know what to do with. Homeland and Scandal are cut from the same cloth, and that cloth is a soap-soaked American flag. There’s room in our hearts for both, certainly, but how do they stack up head-to-head?

Homeland has the obvious advantage of having Claire Danes and her cry face, but Scandal casts a wider cry-net: Olivia (Kerry Washington) cries, but so do her sidekicks Abby (Darby Stanchfield) and Quinn (Katie Lowes). We’ve seen Jessica Brody (Morena Baccarin) get choked up, but it’s not the open sobbing we’ve come to expect from the fixers at Scandal’s Pope and Associates.
Winner: Scandal. Homeland almost never makes the audience cry, but Scandal considers that a virtue.

Evil Vice-Presidents
On Homeland, V.P. Walden ordered the drone strikes that killed Issa, among other innocent children. He also seemed like an assbag. On Scandal, Sally Langston (Kate Burton) is just as much of an assbag, but has slightly less blood on her hands. Not no blood. But less blood.
Winner: Homeland. R.I.P., Walden.

Forbidden Love
The best, most interesting kind of love! And the two romances in question have a lot in common: Both are adulterous for the men, both are fraught with professional fallout, both bring the women to tears on many occasions. But Homeland stumbled into its couple, while Scandal had its romance set up from the start. Both shows can be equally schmaltzy, but on Homeland that only extends to Carrie and Brody, whereas Scandal is a one-stop schmaltz shop, schmaltzing things up every which way. Now that we’ve seen Carrie and Brody together a lot, much of the intrigue has worn off. The exact opposite has happened with Olivia and Fitz (Tony Goldwyn) though: The flashbacks and love-confessions between her and the president just made it even harder to watch them be apart.
Winner: Scandal. We want Carrie to find someone more suitable.

Wise Middle-aged Guys
Carrie and Brody might be the stars of Homeland, but Saul is everyone’s favorite, and with good reason. He’s scrappy and takes no bullshit, and he’s compassionate even in the face of terribleness. Plus that beard! Over at Scandal, Fitz’s chief of staff Cyrus is the father figure you don’t want to cross. (And just for our crazywall: Jeff Perry, who plays Cyrus, was once a mentor to a Claire Danes character, too, as Mr. Katimski on My So-Called Life.) He’s more devious than Saul (yes, we hear you, Saul conspiracy theorists), more capable of cruelty, more ambitious, and more manipulative.
Winner: Homeland. Grow a beard and we’ll see where things go, Cyrus.

Comparisons to the Creators’ Previous Work
Before there was Homeland, there was 24 — and all the baggage that comes with it. Every bad episode of Homeland gets slapped with the label of being too much like 24, too reminiscent of that show’s narrative shortcomings. For Shonda Rhimes and Scandal, the comparisons to Grey’s Anatomy are a little different. Yes, Scandal shares a lot of DNA with Grey’s: Our heroine is someone’s mistress, many episodes include sobbing, the secondary characters tend to have interesting love lives, and the cast overlap is significant. (Cyrus and Sally on Scandal are Thatcher and Ellis on Grey’s, for example.) But early era Grey’s is the gold standard for contemporary melodrama. Any primetime soap would kill for a line as iconic as “Pick me! Choose me! Love me!” Scandal’s getting there, and when I say the show reminds me of season-two-era Grey’s, it’s a compliment.
Winner: Scandal.

Does the Show Know What It Is?
We think of Homeland as a political thriller with romance; Scandal’s a romance with political thriller. But this season of Homeland fell a little short on the thriller front and overindulged a bit on the romance, while Scandal found ways to make its White House setting even more sudsy and exciting. Know thyself, shows.
Winner: Scandal.

Homeland vs. Scandal: Patriotic Romances