Right now, Netflix is a swirling vortex of unanswered questions. There’s the question of how it will respond to all its recently lost subscribers. There’s the issue of whether or not it will start to allow advertising on its platform. But most of all – miles above that, the greatest mystery of all time – is how the hell Anatomy of a Scandal got to be so popular.
If you haven’t seen it, Anatomy of a Scandal represents the latest step of David E Kelley’s malicious plan to churn out more obnoxious hour-long dramas about objectively awful rich people than anyone else in history. This time, David E Kelley’s One Idea has moved to London; or at least a cartoon version of London where everyone is a dribbling cut-glass bellend and the House of Commons appears to have been made out of plywood in a hurry.
And it is terrible. Anatomy of a Scandal is a courtroom drama that hinges on a twist so stupid that it can only realistically be met with a weary sigh. It’s so preposterously overlit and soapily staged that it seems as if the entire series has crawled into your television’s settings and deliberately reinstalled motion smoothing out of spite. The only good performances are those that (like Joshua McGuire’s frazzled political adviser) seem to be aware of the nonstop idiocy that surrounds them. It is really not very good at all.
Why then, despite all this, is Anatomy of a Scandal so popular, currently the most watched Netflix show in the world? Glad you asked. Here’s my theory. It’s because of the final shot of the first episode, which is perhaps the most gloriously stupid thing that has ever been committed to television. If you don’t want it spoiled, get out now.
So, episode one is all about charming MP Rupert Friend admitting to his wife that he had a brief affair with a colleague. He rides out the scandal but, just as the fuss is starting to die down, he is accused of rape. How does Rupert Friend, the star of this apparently prestigious and strait-laced legal drama, react to the accusation? Here’s how: by literally flying backwards through the air in slow motion, like he’s being flung backwards by an invisible explosion.
This happens entirely unannounced, by the way. Rupert Friend flying through the air comes after a full episode of almost total nothingness. It’s like John Woo got wind of how boring the thing was going to be, and jumped out of a helicopter to gee things up at the last minute.
Now, you’re not going to stop watching after something like that, are you? You’re going to sit back in your sofa, stunned beyond all comprehension, and perhaps inspect your drink like a disbelieving vagrant in a 1930s cartoon. You’re going to take a deep breath and close your eyes and think “Did Rupert Friend really react to a rape accusation by literally flying backwards through the air, in the middle of the street, like a ragdoll, or have I just suffered a debilitating blunt force trauma to the base of my skull?” And while you’re sitting there, wondering if you have really just witnessed something as gormless as that, Netflix will have skipped the credits and started autoplaying the next episode.
And then – just as you have barely managed to scrape back the obliterated fragments of your exploded mind – it happens again. Although episode two of Anatomy of a Scandal is just as dreary as the first, it ends (again, without anything even approaching a warning) with Sienna Miller tumbling backwards out of an imaginary lift and falling in slow motion through an empty courtroom. Nobody knows why. There’s no explanation. There’s not really very much of a point. It’s just a thing that happens, presumably to thrust you back into the same cluster-migraine fugue state that you’ve only just escaped, so episode three can sneak on to your screen without you knowing it.
Of course, by this point you’ve wised up to the formula. Anatomy of a Scandal is a bad Channel 5 courtroom drama enlivened by deeply stupid moments of heavy-handed fantasy sequences. So you scrub through the third episode just to see how it ends, and it ends with the camera spinning around while the Aimee Mann song from Magnolia plays. So you click “next episode” and immediately skip to the end and, like clockwork, Michelle Dockery is confronted by her younger self.
By this point, you no longer care about the plot of Anatomy of a Scandal. You’re just fast-forwarding through episodes to see what batshit moment of ill-fitting tonal weirdness is going to come next. And, in the moment when one character says “I can look you in the eye” to another character, before they’re suddenly plunged into what can only be described as the set of Meat Loaf’s I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That) video just so that they can look each other in the eye really hard, you are finally satisfied. You’ve watched an entire series just to see how stupid it can get. And Netflix logged this data accordingly.
And that’s why Anatomy of a Scandal is so popular.