Things don’t always go as planned. When I first came up with the idea for TV Roulette I had imagined starting it alongside the launch of the fall television season. That just was not meant to be, and now three weeks have passed since the season’s start. Never fear, though. Instead of ignoring those three weeks, I wrote three reviews to showcase three programs from that early period. The analysis of these shows was done from the perspective of the time the episode aired without any future information being added in. Think of it like the previews at a second run movie theater. Some of these shows have already ended, while others are just beginning. So enjoy these blasts from the very recent past that are also examples for what these reviews will be like going forward.
Let’s begin with our first entry, Quantico. This was one of the more intriguing new shows of this fall season, but did it deliver or did ABC’s decision to air it Sunday mean that it is destined to be a soapy mess? This answer will become clear right after the rundown. Also, you know, Spoilers Ahead.
TV Roulette Catch-Up #1
Quantico Season 1, Episode 1 ‘Run’
September 27th, 2015
Have I Seen This Show Before?
This is the pilot. There has been no chance to watch it until now.
Network television found itself in a strange place coming into this fall season. The nature of how pilots are made means that networks get very little information about what worked from the current season before they are forced to start making new shows for the next season. This long view of pilots generally has a couple of consequences. One is that it leads to clusters of shows coming out all covering roughly the same subject, like when NBC and ABC released fairy tale shows Grimm and Once Upon a Time at the same time in 2011, or the weird time in the 2010-2011 television season where NBC, Fox, and ABC all attempted to put a twist on Friends by launching Perfect Couples, Traffic Light, and Happy Endings (respectively) in succession, with disastrous results until Happy Endings went from a show that ABC initially intended to burn off to a comedy darling that managed to last three seasons before ABC canceled it because ABC hates comedy (yeah, I am still bitter). The other consequence is that unless a show is a success right away, it likely will not have a real impact creatively until two seasons after it airs, and if a show is a midseason show it has absolutely no chance of impacting the next pilot season creatively. This is true even if a midseason show single handily saves a network from a dumpster fire of a schedule by becoming one of the biggest television phenomenons of all time, like, you know, Empire did for Fox. Of course, this is also true for NBC and ABC with shows like blackish and Fresh Off The Boat, which also tapped into audiences that have long been seeking a voice in television again. There are exceptions, as Dr. Ken and The Carmichael Show somewhat proved, but both of those were more reflections of both networks wanting to do something with talented performers rather than responding to positive indicators from the previous season.
That was a long-winded way of saying that we will have to wait until the 2016 fall season to get network responses (aka, copycat programs) to the success of shows like Empire. Until then this season is full of generic shows with conventional concepts. That doesn’t mean all is lost, though; while shows are already being made when the fall season gets into full swing, they are not cast until much later, which means networks can make some market corrections. In this case that means network television finally realized that maybe every one of its shows don’t have to be inhabited by white people (mostly men) in order to be successful. Hence a show like Rosewood, a Castle or Bones clone about a male medical examiner that has a black male lead and a Latina female lead. Then there is Quantico, which takes a lead role that in years past would be a white male, and instead casts Indian actress Priyanka Chopra alongside a diverse main cast. By pilot’s end, there’s a 4 to 4 male to female split, as well as a mix of different races. In fairness, it should be noted that while the female characters are diverse, the male characters are all white (this gets even weirder starting Episode 2 when two more major characters are introduced one a Latina female and the other is a white male once again), which seems a little weird for a show that seems to be seeking to showcase American diversity, but it is possible that changes in future episodes, so it is probably best to reserve some judgment.
Of course, all of this is nice and all, but what about the actual show. Is it any good? If the pilot is any indication of quality going forward, then yes, this show has the potential to be quite good. A lot of this is because of Chopra, who as protagonist Alex Parrish really rocks the role. And the show gives Chopra the freedom and opportunity to play a female character that feels like a real person. It doesn’t care if she comes off as unlikable at times. She can be brutally honest about what is happening around her and also show real vulnerability when shit hits the fan and she finds herself accused of being a terrorist. It’s the kind of character that has become increasingly more prevalent in television as the medium has evolved to actually allow women to play more than girlfriends and wives, especially when compared to movies. If just taken at face value, a lot of Quantico is pretty standard stuff: a young FBI agent is framed for a crime he didn’t commit and now must prove his innocence. But Chopra and the rest of the cast help breath new life into this story to make it feel fresh.
Furthermore, what really helps the show is how it seems to have a handle on how to juggle multiple characters as it offers effective glimpses into each. None is more fascinating that Aunjanue Ellis’s Miranda Shaw, who is cast in the authoritative mentor role. Shaw has a great exchange with her ex, Liam O’Connor (Josh Hopkins), about her frustration with knowing that her current position in the FBI is probably as high as she will ever rise. In a classic male move, O’Connor tries to tell her that the glass ceiling only exists for her if she allows it to, a message many shows would treat as inspirational. But in Quantico Shaw is quick to castigate O’Connor for patronizing her by trying to speak about something he could never understand as a white male who has faced none of the obstacles she has while trying to rise in the ranks. Quantico is a clever show that seems acutely aware of the gender and racial politics that exist in America today, and not one willing to accept lazy answers to real problems.
Of course, for all the good things the show does in the pilot, there are still some issues. The show is shackled with the classic storytelling trap of Alex having lost her memory of the period before the bombing, which can often be a narrative black hole. Furthermore, the show has to be careful not to allow its mystery to overwhelm its characters because nothing about its overall plotting is anything special compared to its unique take and understanding of characters is. If the show ever loses sight of that fact, things could fall apart very quickly. Still, this show is off to a promising start, and has the potential to be a real break out hit this season.
Notes and Observations:
- So who did mastermind the biggest attack on New York since 9/11? That’s the big question coming out of the pilot and for the show going forward. With the caveat that this appears to be a good (or at least smart) show, I am going to go forward believing that the perpetrator has to be someone we have already met and who featured prominently in the pilot. Plus, I will take the show at its word that the perpetrator is one of the Quantico ‘trainees’. That leaves us with 7 candidates going into the episode:
- Alex Parrish: So, it is possible the show could make Alex the actual perpetrator, which Chopra in interviews admitted could be true. She insists she has not been told yet who is guilty, and that she has been told that it could be her. With all that said, this better not be the case, or this show will be a complete disaster. Even accounting for the memory gap, the show is going to be chronicling a lot of the past events involving other characters, especially Alex. From what has been shown so far, there is nothing to suggest Alex would have such thoughts, and thus the show would be lying to the audience about the main viewpoint character’s intentions the entire time. This is just not a good idea–and it would be a waste of a character like Alex, especially considering the show runners have made it clear that this mystery is confined to this season, and that future seasons would deal with different crises. I’m assuming this show is good, or at least smart, and I believe she should continue to be around in future seasons, so Alex is out as a real suspect.
- Ryan Booth (Jake McLaughlin): Alex’s love interest, and a potential weak link in the cast, as it is questionable if he is up to the task of matching Chopra’s excellence on screen. There is a lot working against him being the culprit, however, as for one thing he is not actually a trainee, but instead an actual undercover FBI agent sent to get close to and surveil Alex because, well, it’s unclear, but presumably because of her father being a FBI agent. The second indication of his innocence is that he seems to have been shot and fighting for his life during the bombing. Of course, this could be a fake-out, and in this case it would be an effective one, especially considering the show has already set up that a lot of his simple everyman persona is at least somewhat an act, so Ryan could be capable of far deeper lies. Still, he is more of a dark horse than a major contender at this time.
- Nimah & Raina Amin (Yasmine Al Massri): So, one of the major reveals of the pilot is that Nimah is actually twin sisters alternately presenting themselves as Nimah. This offers some intriguing possibilities going forward. As for either sister’s actual chances of being the culprit, it is possible that the show could take advantage of the twins by making only one of them guilty, but this feels pretty cheap, as it would allow the show to cheat and avoid getting rid of an actor once she is revealed to be the terrorist. Also, some might say that the show would actually be progressive by acknowledging that there are Muslims who are terrorists, but those people are stupid and I wish I could live in their utopia. There is no way in hell this show is making its main Muslim character the terrorist (nor should it), so let’s just move along.
- Shelby Wyatt (Johanna Braddy): So this is where audience and writer expectations come into conflict. From an audience perspective, revealing the terrorist to be Shelby, who became a FBI agent because her parents died in 9/11 and she wants to make sure that never happens to anyone else, would be quite surprising. But from a writer’s perspective, she is almost so much an unexpected choice that she becomes too obvious. Still, she is quite the strong candidate, because she is being set up to be Alex’s best friend, and you could very easily see how she could have taken her anger about her parents’ death and blamed it on America for ‘inciting’ the extremism that caused 9/11. The political implications are a trap the show probably should avoid as well, but overall Shelby is a strong possibility.
- Simon Asher (Tate Ellington): Simon is an interesting case. Pinning him down is a bit hard. He presents himself as a gay Jewish man, but the show makes it clear that none of his supposed boyfriends were more than fronts. Meanwhile, he mysteriously spent some of his life in Gaza, which could prove problematic. He is presented as a good guy, but his slippery nature also makes it very possible that all of this is a front for darker intentions. He also kind of falls into the “seems a bit too obvious” category, but he still seems like a leading candidate as of now.
- Caleb Haas (Graham Rogers): Caleb is quite the obnoxious figure in the pilot. He is woefully unqualified to be an agent, and only got into the program because both of his parents were agents. He is unlikable, but ultimately seems too incompetent to be the terrorist. Unlike the other characters, there is nothing to suggest that there is much to him beyond the surface, and thus this all being an act seems unlikely. There is some real potential for this character as a terrorist lashing out against his parents, and seeking to punish them for a past wrong, but at this point he feels more like a distraction more a real contender.
- Eric Packer (Brian J. Smith): Unless he can survive a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, I think it is safe to say he is not the terrorist.
- Verdict: To Quantico’s credit, all of the main suspects have reasons they could or could not be the terrorist, which should make the mystery quite intriguing going forward. Still, the top two contenders are Simon and Shelby right now, with Ryan as a dark horse. The only real surprise would be if it is actually Alex, because that would be dumb. Simon probably has the most potential to be a truly great antagonist, but if I had to choose someone I wanted it to be, I would pick Ryan, who desperately needs a Agents of Shield-like turn to be even remotely interesting.
- I hope going forward the show does a better job of fleshing out Quantico itself. The building and area have a lot of potential for storytelling purposes that the pilot didn’t take nearly take enough advantage of.
- As a huge fan of Johanna Braddy’s past work, especially in Greek, I am excited to see that she may finally be breaking out this year first with her time on the surprising good Unreal (Lifetime has an actual good show, I don’t know how to handle this), and now with this role.
- I’ve liked Josh Hopkins in past things, but he’s not working for me so far in Quantico. Considering this role has already been recast once (the aforementioned Dougray Scott originally had the role), that is worrisome, because it might just mean the show doesn’t have a handle on what to do with that character.
- Furthermore, it is concerning that the two biggest problems in the show are the two main male leads. Luckily everyone else is pretty good so far, and, well, the male leads might not be nearly as important as one might expect so this might be okay.
- This show is shot beautifully, and I hope the show continues to explore getting more and more creative with its cinematography.
Episode Grade: B+
Would I Watch More?
Yes, I am more than willing to give it more episodes, unless it stops prioritizing characterization over boring overarching plot. This show feels unique despite its generic idea, so as long as that continues I am in.
That’s it for this edition of TV Roulette. The wheel of fate and random numbers was kind to me this time. Will that continue? Find out in the next edition. Until then, make sure to remember that when in doubt just walk like a boss with an FBI hat on, and even if all of the FBI is looking for you, no one will notice you walking away in a crowd.