Thanks to the successful crop of television shows she’s created and produced, Shonda Rhimes has set the bar for addicting TV drama in the last 10 years. We’ve loved watching powerhouse female characters Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington), Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo), and Addison Montgomery (Kate Walsh) strive to take over the world while trying to fix their messy personal lives. Viola Davis is the newest addition to the fold (as How To Get Away with Murder’s Annalise Keating), playing a high-powered defense attorney with troubles of her own.
Over the years, these shows have a established a few familiar tropes. You know you’re watching a Shonda show when major ish goes down unexpectedly, like plane crash or a bomb going off where it’s not supposed to, causing us to say farewell to some of our favorite characters. In honor of tonight’s return of Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy, and the series premiere of How To Get Away With Murder, we’re taking a look at everything you can expect to happen on a show that Shonda’s name is attached to. From characters with memorable catchphrases (“It’s handled!”) to crazy things happening in elevators, let’s see how much of a Shonda fan you really are.
STRONG WOMEN BEING THEIR OWN BOSS
Grey’s Anatomy: The Denny Duquette Memorial Clinic, run by Miranda Bailey and then Izzie Stevens
Scandal: Olivia Pope & Associates
Private Practice: Addison and the Seaside Wellness Center
How To Get Away With Murder: Annalise and her law firm
Shonda’s all about showcasing the bad bitches who run the world. They own their own practices or firms, and frankly, don’t take anyone’s crap. Cross their paths if you dare.
INTENSE LOVE TRIANGLES BLUR THE LINE BETWEEN RIGHT AND WRONG
Grey’s Anatomy: McDreamy + Addison + Meredith; McDreamy + Meredith + Addison; Addison + McDreamy + McSteamy; Izzie + Denny + Alex
Scandal: Fitz + Olivia + Jake; Mellie + Olivia + Fitz; James + Cyrus + Daniel; Mellie + Fitz + Andrew
Private Practice: Addison + Pete + Violet; Sam + Naomi + Dell; Violet + Cooper + Charlotte; Pete + Violet + Sheldon; Sam + Addison + Jake; Pete + Violet + Scott; Naomi + Fife + William; Pete + Addison+ Sam
More than anything else, a Rhimes production must feature some kind of forbidden love. and/or secret affair. We may see love triangles on other shows, but the ones Shonda helps to create are so wrong, they’re right — like, really wrong — causing us to never quite settle on who we want to see end up together.
SOMEONE HAS SEX WITH THEIR SUPERIOR
Grey’s Anatomy: Everyone
Scandal: Olivia Pope has an ongoing affair with Fitz (Tony Goldwyn) who is not only her boss (at times), but the President of the United States a.k.a. everyone’s boss
Shonda has a way of seeing straight into our souls and conveying our fantasies. Like you’ve never thought of this before? There’s typically a precarious location where the good stuff goes down, like the Oval Office in Scandal (WHERE THERE ARE CAMERAS EVERYWHERE), the on-call room in Grey’s, or Annalise’s office in Murder.
Kerry Washington tells us how long she wants to be playing professional problem-solver Olivia Pope.
SHIT GOES DOWN IN AN ELEVATOR
Private Practice (above)
Professing your love and partaking in steamy make out sessions are so much more exciting when you only have 30 seconds to do so and the threat of someone walking in on you. Take it from Beyoncé, “Of course sometimes shit goes down when it’s a billion dollars on an elevator” — or in Shonda’s characters’ case, of course some shit goes down when there’s uncontrollable, burning passion trapped in a tiny space. There are also the times when a character is stuck in an elevator with someone who’s trying to kill him or her (see: Scandal’s Huck, Charlie and Hollis Doyle).
PEOPLE DROWN THEIR SORROWS WITH EXCESSIVE AMOUNTS OF ALCOHOL
Scandal: Olivia Pope and red wine
Grey’s Anatomy: Meredith Grey and tequila
Our favorite leading ladies have their hands full running shit, so can you blame them for needing to rely on their good friend, alcohol? (When we told you Shonda sees straight into our souls, we weren’t kidding.) Olivia Pope’s main food group is red wine (and popcorn). And she only drinks it in a big, fabulous glass, of course. Oftentimes, she drinks while complaining with her friend/foe Cyrus, on a very white couch. Danger!
Grey’s Anatomy: Hospital bomb, shooting, plane crash, ferryboat accident, train crash…
Scandal: Bombs, plane crash
Because no Shonda series would be complete without more than one major, out-of-the-blue disaster that kills off characters and makes us throw our popcorn at the screen (Olivia Pope would not approve).
WOMEN TAKE CHARGE IN HEELS
Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice: Addison
Scandal: Olivia, Mellie, Sally
How To Get Away With Murder: Annalise Keating
Shonda taught us to never underestimate a lady in Louboutins. Getting your hands dirty doesn’t require one to give up looking fabulous.
A NAIVE NEWCOMER TURNS BADASS
Scandal: Quinn Perkins
Grey’s Anatomy: April Kepner, Izzy
The ultimate Shonda transformation is when the new, innocent girl turns hardcore. Remember when Quinn went from the annoying, 21 questions girl to the crazy lady that licked Huck’s face? Case in point.
THE FIXER-UPPER CAN’T KEEP TO HERSELF
Scandal: Olivia Pope
Grey’s Anatomy: Meredith Grey
How To Get Away With Murder: Annalise Keating
Shonda loves showcasing a woman who is capable of, and known for, cleaning up after everyone’s messes. Or, someone who intervenes and helps fix relationship problems, like Meredith.
CATCHPHRASES ARE BORN
Scandal: “It’s handled.” -Olivia; “Hi.” -Olivia and Fitz
Grey’s Anatomy: “It’s a beautiful day to save lives.” -McDreamy
We love that Shonda can make just a few words mean a whole lot more. In the video above, Fitz and Olivia’s “Hi,” is much more than a casual greeting.
SECRETS AND TROUBLED PASTS ARE EXPOSED
Scandal: Huck’s experience in B-613, loss of family, and time on the streets; Harrison’s legal issues; Quinn’s ex-boyfriend’s murder; Abby’s abusive husband; Fitz’s demeaning dad; Mellie’s rape
Private Practice: Amelia was five years old when she and her brother Derek saw their father get murdered; Pete saw his mom murder Henry; Addison was abused by her parents
Grey’s Anatomy: Izzie’s trailer park baby; Alex’s abusive dad; Meredith’s broken home
What kind of Shonda show would be without a few wounded souls? We see these character’s unfortunate pasts, and the burden they face from having so many deep secrets. We’re always rooting for them (even if they are a little cray cray, Huck style).
CASES OF THE WEEK
Scandal, Off the Map, Grey’s Anatomy, How To Get Away With Murder
The fast-paced, case-of-the-week feel on Shonda’s shows never gets old. While main characters have their overarching problems to deal with Shonda has a way of introducing new characters and scenarios at the beginning of every episode, an has us totally invested 40 minutes later.
STRESSED OUT CHARACTERS WHO ARE MARRIED TO THE JOB
Scandal: Olivia, Cyrus
Grey’s Anatomy: Bailey, Richard, Cristina
Shonda could hold Workaholics Anonymous sessions for her main characters alone. We’ve seen many of their relationships crumble and personal lives suffer because of this, but in a way, they also make us feel better about our own lives. Guilty.
Scandal: Fitz and Olivia, Jake and Olivia
Grey’s Anatomy: Avery and April, Christina and Burke
How To Get Away With Murder: Annalise and Tom
With her diverse casts, Shonda has been broadening the scope of what’s seen in primetime television since’s Grey’s Anatomy’s inception. With interracial and homosexual relationships on screen, her shows depict real life — even if the drama is at times over the top.
PEOPLE DON’T REALLY DIE UNLESS YOU SEE THEM DIE
Scandal: Olivia thinks her mom is dead
Grey’s Anatomy: Meredith thinks McDreamy dies; George figures out a patient isn’t dead before they donate his organs
Olivia’s world was rocked when she learned the mother she thought died in a plane was actually alive (and plotting to take down the United States). Shonda is known to play that old trick on us, making it clear we must see a person die (like, literally stop breathing) to believe they’re actually gone. Aha! Gets us every time.
Keep this checklist handy during tonight’s Shonda premieres, beginning at 8 pm ET on ABC.
[Photo Credit: ABC/Giphy]