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ABC’s slick ‘Scandal’ twists and turns improbably

Kerry Washingtleads team crisis managers “Scandal” latest ABC series created by ShondRhimes.

Kerry Washington leads a team of crisis managers in “Scandal,” the latest ABC series created by Shonda Rhimes.

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‘SCANDAL’ ★★1/2

9 to 10 p.m. Thursdays on WLS-Channel 7

Updated: May 6, 2012 8:22AM

You know those jokes about Chuck Norris?

“Chuck Norris’ tears can cure cancer. Too bad he never cries.”

In the new ABC series “Scandal,” people have a similar kind of reverence for the lead character, the omnipotent Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington). Olivia is a former White House staffer turned “fixer” whose very name elicits either fear or awe.

If that seems a bit melodramatic, well, so is the show. It’s the latest creation of south suburban-native Shonda Rhimes of “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Private Practice” fame. Unlike those soapy medical dramas, “Scandal” revolves around people who make a living at a lesser-known profession: crisis management.

“We’re fixers,” explains smooth-talking attorney Harrison Wright (Columbus Short) in the frenetically paced pilot. “We make the problems of our client — big or small — go away. It’s not about solving a crime. It’s not about justice. It’s about our client.”

Pope and her workaholic posse of whip-smart soldiers are “gladiators in suits,” a grandiose phrase repeated so often, it’s destined to become a drinking game.

Said gladiators include Henry Ian Cusick (“Lost”) as Stephen, a litigator who likes the ladies; Darby Stanchfield as Abby, whose bag of tricks includes everything from batting her eyelashes to blackmail; Guillermo Diaz as Huck, the flannel-wearing computer hacker; and Katie Lowes as Quinn, a wide-eyed newbie with a lot to learn.

Once Olivia’s infallible gut tells her to take on a client, there’s nothing she and her team won’t do to make that person’s problem go away. Negotiating with Ukrainian mobsters. Defending an Iraq war hero accused of killing his girlfriend. Dealing with the U.S. president’s potential zipper problem. These headaches are all in a day’s work for Olivia and her elite staff, who are much better at fixing other people’s lives than their own. Oh, the irony.

The pilot’s multiple story lines dart around like a hummingbird with ADD, although the show settles down a bit in subsequent episodes. “Scandal’s” dialogue tends to be too slick for its own good, and the twisting, turning plots are improbable at best.

But this female-skewing drama gets points for its actors’ performances and its originality, from the voyeuristic way it’s shot to the subject matter that focuses on a more unconventional profession than your typical cop/doctor/lawyer show — not to mention the casting of a black woman in the lead role.

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