According to Nielsen, Scandal’s audience is overwhelmingly female. Like, Lifetime-TV female. Last season, just 26 percent of Scandal viewers ages 18 to 49 were men. That’s even lower than ABC’s other lady-centric dramas, Revenge, Once Upon a Time, and Nashville. That it has a passionate female fan base is not a surprising revelation: The show is the brainchild of Shonda Rhimes, creator of the singularly soapy (and equally female-skewing) Grey’s Anatomy; it’s a hit among shippers eager to root for the roller-coaster romance between powerhouse D.C. crisis manager Olivia Pope and the (married) president of the United States; and it is filled with insane, delightfully batshit, capital-M melodramatic plot twists reminiscent of the Sydney’s-in-a-cult, Kimberly-blew-up-the-complex shenanigans of Melrose Place. But wait, men, don’t walk away! Scandal also has plenty in common with great shows you love, too.
1. Don Draper as president. President Fitzgerald Grant cheats on his wife, drinks on the job, is plagued by daddy issues, and even has a mysterious military past. But he has more enablers than Don, including his politically motivated wife, Mellie, who continue to believe in his potential for “greatness,” all evidence to the contrary. Oh, and one-upping Don, he’s also a cold-blooded, with-his-bare-hands murderer. (People die all the time on Scandal.) And yet, for reasons of pure charisma — he’s got that indefinable something — you still want him to be reelected and get the girl.
2. A monster as tragic as Walter White. Like Breaking Bad’s meth magnate, the president’s ruthless chief of staff, Cyrus Beene, rationalizes his plotting and murders in the name of a selfless cause: patriotism. He wants to be POTUS but can’t, so he helps rig the vote to get Fitz elected because he can control him. Or rather, Cyrus just tells himself he’s doing it for the good of his
family “country,” when really he’s just drunk on power. There are Heisenberg-sized retaliations afoot, too: Cyrus once ordered a hit man, whom he keeps on payroll, to take out his own husband, a White House reporter who was about to testify about the ballot rigging Cyrus perpetrated.
3. West Wing–esque walk-and-talks. They’ve picked up the speed on Scandal; here they’re practically run-and-talks. The show only pays attention to people on the move, and there’s a constant need to update co-conspirators, orchestrate plans, and put out fires between official business. Almost all the political maneuvering goes down in the corridors of the White House. Plus, as a bonus West Wing callback cred, it co-stars Josh Malina!
4. A Jack Bauer–esque tortured torturer. Terrorists and conspirators who came up against Jack’s whatever-it-takes sense of justice on 24 were beaten, blow-torched, and disemboweled. (Colleagues who interfered were met with a friendlier “Don’t fight it” headlock.) On Scandal, zero-tolerance intel-gathering comes via the similarly tortured badass Huck, Olivia’s computer whiz by day, drill-wielding assassin by night. And just as Jack was haunted by memories of war, a murdered wife, and a separation from his daughter and grandchild, Huck is a magnet for misery, too: He was forced into being an assassin by a secret government agency, ordered to abandon his family, and discovered that torturing information out of people before killing them gave him an addictive rush. He goes to AA meetings to help control the bloodlust.
5. Everyone in D.C. is House of Cards–level awful. And in equally complex, illegal, immoral ways. The White House plays dirty, but so does Olivia’s staff, whom she refers to as “gladiators in suits.” They regularly fix problems for crooked politicians, all the while claiming to wear the white hat. Watch them rationalize framing an innocent girl for sleeping with the president. And as cited above, one of them is addicted to murder.
6. It’s not like Grey’s Anatomy. This isn’t just the story of Olivia and Fitz’s relationship — and even when that romance is focused on, there isn’t a lot of neurotic whining or cutesy McNicknames. (But angry closet sex in the White House? Sure!) These are people with important shit to do, free-world-shaping that requires political negotiations and power plays. They indulge in a lot of operatic This-Is-How-and-Why-You’re-Fucked take-downs, like when the First Lady threatened to expose Fitz as a philanderer in a live TV interview, or later when Cyrus told her to back off (that one was particularly fun). And when a commercial plane goes down on Scandal, it’s because the president shot it down (this just happened), not an excuse for sad musical montages.