This past week in television has been absolutely devastating for fans of ABC's Scandal and CBS's The Good Wife. If you watch either show, you're probably still reeling from the most recent episodes, both of which included death sentences for beloved characters. And if you watch both shows, you're probably reading this from the glass case of emotion from which you cannot remove yourself.
First, let's discuss Scandal. Last Thursday, Gladiators everywhere tuned in to find out #WhoGotShot. Some of us were expecting the end of white hat-rocking David Rosen. Others thought James Novak should take the bullet, especially since he was flip-flopping (once again) over what to do about his political animal of a husband, Cyrus Beene. We were ready, weren't we? We were ready for someone to die because we'd been told in the previous week that someone was totally going to get shot!
But then it happened, and we were slapped in the face with the cold, hard reality of the end of James, lying face-down in the concrete. Really, truly, actually dead. Actually, even this wasn't so bad. But when Jake walked over to him at the end of the episode, and we had to watch him talk James through his final moments? And promise him that his daughter would be fine? And kind of, sort of, legitimately apologize for having to kill him, and having to make him suffer so the murder could look like a car-jacking and not a job done by a professional? The worst. The absolute worst.
Or was it?
Don't watch this video unless you're in a place where it's okay to start inexplicably crying:
Sunday night, fans of The Good Wife waited for an eternity for that ridiculously annoying show that shall remain nameless to finally roll credits so that we could see what was up in the land of Alicia and Will. And whaddayaknow? Out of nowhere — seriously, we were not warned, there were no hints in the previews — Will gets shot. He's moments away from winning the big case, but the kid he's defending (Hunter Parrish, who many of us know as Silas from Weeds) can't take it anymore and opens fire on an entire courtroom.
We might have been able to predict the death of James, but the death of Will was a horrifying, horrible, horror-inducing horror. Yes, that many variations on horror are necessary to explain the shock and awe of that character's final moments.
But every dark cloud has a silver lining (allegedly), so let's look on the bright side. We'll get to see more of James A.K.A. Dan Bucatinsky in an upcoming NBC series Marry Me. And he also has another project in the works with Scandal creator Shonda Rhimes. There's no word for sure on what's next for Josh Charles, but he did stop by The Late Show With David Letterman and made it clear that he's been wanting to move on for some time now. So here's hoping we get to see him in something new soon. Not that anything could assuage the loss of Will Gardner. Case in point:
How Alicia looks at the 1:27 mark? Yes. That's exactly how 99% of us feel right now. So basically... The Good Wife and Scandal writers? You are all the worst right now.
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Look. We know you love Scandal. We know you kind of want to be Olivia Pope. And we get that your Christmas wish list consisted of mainly Scandal-related paraphernalia. But the ABC drama series, now in the midst of a pretty epic third season, is a dangerous show to get addicted to, especially if you've been taking any relationship cues from the main characters. We love these guys, but here are a few Scandal folks you probably, definitely, should not call if you need some healthy advice on love.
Abby (played by Darby Stanchfield) has put her boyfriend through the ringer so many times, it's sad. Poor David Rosen can't get a break, with Abby stealing Cytron cards from him, lying to him to cover for Olivia Pope & Associates, and asking about a gazillion favors from him now that he's the U.S. Attorney for Washington D.C. Now that the two are open about their job descriptions, Abby and David are a much better couple. But Abby's a Gladiator first, which could prove detrimental to this relationship (again).
Cyrus has done so many horrible, awful, grimey things to his husband James, it's difficult to know where to begin. There was that time he put a hit out on him. That time he got him a baby, just so James would stop working as a journalist and stop dipping into all of Cyrus's political dirt. But all of that paled in comparison to the stunt he pulled this season. If you were ever thinking of getting ahead of your political opponent, probably don't use your husband as sexual bait for that opponent's closeted gay husband. Bad idea.
We love Fitz. But seriously. In three seasons we've watched him bounce back and forth between Olivia and his wife Mellie (okay, more Olivia than Mellie), plus there was that Amanda Tanner situation. We know he loves Olivia, but there was that one unforgivable, postcoital conversation they had in which he told Olivia, "I may not be able to control my erections around you, but that doesn’t mean I want you. We are done." Ouch. And no.
Olivia herself has openly admitted on the show that she is a hot mess when it comes to love. She's kind of a mistress, kind of not. She dated Senator Davis and pretty much led him on, refusing to tell him that she was totally still in love with the President. Then there was the Jake versus Fitz fiasco (actually, that may still be ongoing). Now don't get us wrong -- this all makes for great television. And this character has had some wonderful, empowering moments on the series. But we think it'll be a while before Olivia finds herself in a drama-free relationship.
There are a lot of things that ABC’s Scandal gets right. Their lead character Olivia Pope (played by Kerry Washington) is practically a lifestyle guru, and the way in which creator Shonda Rhimes works race and racial politics into the drama is also pretty brilliant. Like any good drama there are plenty of complex relationships that drive the storylines; Olivia Pope is in a relationship with President Fitzgerald Grant, and her faithful Gladiators find themselves in all kinds of complications due to love interests who always seem to clash with their professional lives. But there’s one couple in particular that deserves our attention, and that would be the one between Cyrus Beene (Jeff Perry) and James Novak (played by Dan Bucatinsky, who was nominated for a 2013 Emmy for the role).
On the one hand, Cyrus and James are obviously not the first well-written gay couple on television. But they are different. Cyrus is, for one, a villain of sorts. He’s the White House Chief of Staff and the President’s right-hand man. He’s an admitted political animal, a monster even; he’s terrifying and brutal, and he’s totally in love with his husband. But because James is a correspondent for the White House – and constantly looking for the very truths that his husband is constantly trying to cover up – their relationship is beyond complicated. In one unforgettable second season episode Cyrus literally puts a hit out on his hubby, in an attempt to keep a very damaging story about rigged votes from becoming public. Don’t worry -- they work it out in the end, but it's all very intense, to say the least.
Shonda Rhimes handles the relationship between Cyrus and James in a way that is similar to her treatment of Olivia and Fitz. For her two main characters, the interracial aspect of their love affair is not where the complication lies, although it is a fact. And for Cyrus and James, their attempts to live and love together in a predominantly heterosexual environment is sometimes an issue, but also not the source of the drama. As a result, they cease to be ‘the gay couple’ on the show and become, rather, one of our favorite couples to watch. As the third season takes off and the couple continues to work out their issues (with a new baby on board, no less), we can’t wait to see where Cyrus and James take the ever-exciting series that is Scandal.
Wracked by guilt over what she believes is her responsibility for the tragic death of her mother -- and running away from a distant father (Paul Bettany) -- 14 year-old Lily Owens (Dakota Fanning) takes off with her caretaker Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson) and heads to the South Carolina home of the Boatwright sisters a place that holds many memories of her own mother’s childhood. She is immediately taken under their wing and bonds with August (Queen Latifah) the family matriarch who runs the enterprising bee farm on the property and teaches Lily the ways of the honey. There’s also the spirited June (Alicia Keys) a music teacher resisting the marriage proposals of the well-intentioned Neil (Nate Parker) and fragile and childlike May (Sophie Okonedo). In forging new relationships with these women a whole new world of self-esteem is slowly opened for Lily. For Dakota Fanning her performance in Bees marks a turning point into a new phase of her already impressive career and in Lily proves she is able to move effortlessly into strong teenage roles and more sophisticated material. She’s quite touching as a young Southern girl who comes of age with the help of some wonderful African-American women at the height of the Civil Rights movement in 1964. Hudson also proves she can move comfortably beyond her Oscar-winning powerhouse debut in Dreamgirls. In Rosaleen she gives voice to a young black woman who is determined to exercise her right to vote for the first time but at a price. Latifah is warm and commanding and the Queen bee of this clan and her scenes with Fanning are nicely toned. In an unusual cast with lots of singers-turned-actresses such as Hudson and Latifah Keys also shows smart acting instincts even if her interpretation of June is a little on the flat side. Okonedo (Hotel Rwanda) is simply wonderful and touchingly understated as the shy inward May. You wish there was more with her. Among the men Bettany takes a one-dimensional role as the demanding father and gives it some light while Parker (The Great Debaters) and Tristan Wilds as August’ godson and Lily’s new friend are spot on. Gina Prince-Bythewood who directs and smartly adapted the popular Sue Monk Kidd novel does go for the sentiment inherent in an old-fashioned story of this kind. But she also thankfully doesn’t pour it on. She creates a world in the deep South that doesn’t shy away from showing the harshness of life for African-Americans but whose lives at least politically are right at a major turning point. Most of all though she nurtures some lovely performances and brings an ensemble cast together with ease and heart. Prince-Bythewood whose breakthrough feature was the entertaining sleeper hit Love and Basketball clearly knows how to bring out the best in her actors. Secret Life of Bees elicits laughter and tears in equal doses proving to be the kind of not obviously commercial but uplifting movie-going experience rarely seen these days.
The story of the late great Johnny Cash depicted in Walk the Line is not quite all encompassing. The film dramatizes just one moment in Cash's life: his tumultuous 20s and rise to fame. The young Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) married and straight out of the army struggles with his music finally finding his patented blend of country blues and rock music. Haunted by a troubled childhood Cash sings songs about death love treachery and sin--and shoots straight to the top of the charts. On tour he also meets and falls for his future wife June Carter (Reese Witherspoon) whose refusal to meddle with a married man only further fuels the fire and contributes to his eventual drug addiction. Their cat-and-mouse love story provides the film’s core but unfortunately can’t quite overcome Walk the Line’s formulaic nature. Biopics are generally good to actors. Phoenix and Witherspoon could easily each walk away with Oscar statuettes for turning in two of the most jaw-dropping spellbinding performances since well Jamie Foxx in Ray. Neither actor had any musical background whatsoever but they both underwent painstaking transformations for the sake of authenticity doing all of their own singing as well as guitar-playing for Phoenix. The actor's performance is purely raw and visceral; his vulnerability is aptly palpable at first but then he becomes the Cash with the unflinching swagger. Witherspoon's Carter is Cash's temptress and she'll be yours too by movie's end. She eerily reincarnates Carter as if she was born to play the part. If Walk the Line is the ultimate actor's canvas then Phoenix and Witherspoon make priceless art-and music-together. While good for the actors biopics can prove to be difficult for the director. It’s hard to highlight a person’s life without it coming off like a TV movie of the week. Unfortunately director James Mangold (Copland) plays it safe with Walk the Line. The duets between Johnny and June on stage are about the only electrifying moments of the film. The rest is pretty stereotypical. And it isn’t because the film only focuses on certain years of Cash's life. It's simply not possible to fit a lifetime into the short duration of a film. The problem instead is that Mangold's presentation of Cash's life would lead one to believe that Cash actually exorcised his demons. But in reality his lifelong demons are what endeared him to the layperson. There was nothing cut and dry about the Cash story--and adding a little grit would have given Walk the Line the edge it needed.