Let’s face it: Audiences find it hard to resist a good, prestige drama. Violence? Check. Drugs? Most likely. Heart wrenching familial drama? You got it. And now, here comes “Snowfall,” an FX drama helmed by John Singleton, singlehandedly taking on the crack epidemic, told from the perspectives of a diverse bunch. How could it fail?
Set in 1983 Los Angeles, the story centers on four major characters: Franklin (Damson Idris), a young, black upstart seeking power, survival and success; Gustavo “El Oso” Zapata (Sergio Peris-Mencheta) a Mexican wrestler in the middle of one crime family’s struggle for power; Teddy McDonald (Carter Hudson), a CIA operative with, of course, a dark past; and Lucia Villanueva, the daughter of a Mexican crime lord, eager to find her place in the booming business of cocaine.
There’s no denying the premise is ambitious. And “Snowfall” does all the right things — the colors are saturated, and the soundtrack seductive. The cast is diverse. Racial tensions of the '80s in California are artfully explored. And yet, despite all of this — the many characters, the many storylines — it’s surprisingly dull.
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Blame it on the details, too many details: machinations of wars fought abroad, the Iran-Contra affair, a pantsless Israeli crime boss with improbable connections with everyone, everything. It’s easy to get lost in the bits and pieces, and it’s a feat to keep up. Even when the actors are magnetic — Idris’ turn as Franklin is, especially — what does it mean when the story isn’t?
“Snowfall” also veers dangerously close to the improbable. It’s hard to believe that Franklin, a young man who starts the series chastising children for stealing ice cream, would take responsibility for bringing crack cocaine into his fragile neighborhood, a block lined with palm trees in South Central. And nothing in the series’ first couple of episodes hints at how Franklin could so easily go from good to bad.
“Snowfall” is as formulaic as they come, and audiences that enjoy that sort of thing may love it. But in this era of peak television, there's not much room for a show that's essentially more of the same. We've seen this story before — it's time for something new.
"Snowfall" premieres on Wednesday, July 5 at 10p.m. on FX.
Follow Rachael Vaughan Clemmons on Twitter — @rachaelclemz