Shonda Rhimes: The Trade-Off

Every Thursday, I do a dance of joy knowing I’m headed to Shondaland.

One of my co-workers and I perform an actual celebratory cabbage-patch as we dip into the elevator for a night of TV. We even have a cheer: “Woo-hoo, Shondaland!”

(Yeah, it gets pretty serious.)

And it’s an all night affair. I watch enough of Grey’s Anatomy to recognize the key moments, freeze out the world during Scandal and lean forward in full suspense watching the twists and turns on How To Get Away with Murder. That Shonda has you going through all the emotions over the course of three hours.

Though I dig Shonda Rhimes’ imagination and creativity, it was during a recent watching of HTGAWM that it clicked for me how bothered I have become with some of the images portrayed on these shows–Scandal and HTGAWM, specifically.

Here we have these strong, Type-A, boss women in designer power suits who can twist the world around their fingers with their quick tongues and side-eye glances, yet they practically crumble when it comes to men. Their personal lives are shambled messes with no control.

Career-wise, Olivia Pope and Annalise Keating are the highest of the high.

I understand wanting to show complex characters, because women are that. And I get the layers.

But Shonda’s shows do not illustrate the connection of love. Lust is fun, exciting and keeps us yelling at the screen #TeamJake or, for some, #TeamFitz. Let’s not forget that Keating’s nicely sculpted boyfriend showed us all some new moves when the show debuted.

But, now that eyes across the color and class spectrum are glued in and dedicated to the works of Ms. Rhimes, can we see some strength happening in the personal lives of these dynamic Black female characters?

Or is it that Shonda herself is befuddled, like many of us, by striking balance. I sensed that when the prolific writer made the commencement speech at Dartmouth this past spring. She was specifically responding to the question: “How do you do it all?” Her response:

“I don’t. … If I am at home sewing my kids’ Halloween costumes, I’m probably blowing off a rewrite I was supposed to turn in. If I am accepting a prestigious award, I am missing my baby’s first swim lesson. If I am at my daughter’s debut in her school musical, I am missing Sandra Oh’s last scene ever being filmed at Grey’s Anatomy. If I am succeeding at one, I am inevitably failing at the other. That is the trade-off.”

So, perhaps these portrayals are true reflections of her life. Pope and Keating are forces during the day, but incomplete at night. Even in the aforementioned statement, “failing” is a striking statement. Her failing may not be that she is a bad mother – yet a compromising one for the betterment of the family’s lives and lifestyle.

Is this the choice she sees her characters making? And “failing” at?

I’d love to hear your thoughts about these characters and this conundrum. That is, after you’re all caught up from Shondaland.