Jul 6, 2017

Channel Surfing: Snowfall - "Pilot"

Welcome to a new column called Channel Surfing, in which I sporadically look at current TV shows and talk about them. These are not ones that I care to write weekly recaps for and are instead reflections either on the episode, the series, or particular moments. This will hopefully help to share personal opinions as well as discover entertainment on the outer pantheon that I feel is well worth checking out, or in some cases, shows that are weird enough to talk about, but should never be seen.
For decades now, shows centered around drug trafficking have been fairly popular. Whether it's The Wire, Breaking Bad, or even more recently with Narcos, the way that a series explores the criminal lifestyle has fascinated audiences, in part because it's such a risky business. Nobody would dare risk their lives just to make big bucks. What is the reasoning behind getting into a seedy business that, if caught, would ruin your life? While it's far from the first show to do so, FX's new drama Snowfall at least has decided to explore the rise of crack cocaine in South Central Los Angeles. It's a story that doesn't just involve local gangs, but international organizations and overall a sense of desperation from limited career opportunities. Crack isn't solely for profit, it's for benefit.
The show quickly drops us into a local neighborhood where there's discussion on the ethics of petty theft. As a kid robs small goods from an ice cream truck, protagonist Franklin (Damson Idris) discusses how to be more suave about these actions. It's best not to get caught. However, there's more to his simple life. He wants to attend college, which is both too expensive and has only a black college on the opposite coastline. He has limited options, especially as his friends are released from juvie and behave just as stupidly. He is a kid who sees the dreams before him, the ones that were promised in the ever evolving "American Dream" vernacular. He wants that, but he is lower class and has no way of getting there without cutting some corners.
While Franklin is the central character for most of the first episode, there is a bigger web. There's major dealers who are wanted by the C.I.A., as well as various traffickers who are bringing it into the country. Franklin even attends one of their parties and sees the joy that it brings people. Even if he's money minded, he sees the ability to buy lush homes and have gorgeous women over as a positive. Since his family doesn't want him going to college, as it is seen as a wasted cost, he has to be self-reliant. He has to make business, and the first episode introduces his entry into the drug dealing world. There isn't much beyond the looming fear that is set to come, but you understand why he's doing so by the end of the episode.
The series is from Boyz n the Hood director John Singleton, who received two Oscar nominations for his film about young men growing up in the ghetto. With his unique perspective, he has the ability to mix fiction with history of a dilemma that largely negated communities. The advertising suggests that "This is how crack began." It's a tall order, especially since there's documented evidence and a history of terrible crime. If the series chooses to approach the subject reverently, there's odds that it could be an engaging yet fictional look into a bad mark on America's history. Considering how empathetic Franklin is by the episode's end, the pressure to balance this with negative connotation will be difficult. While Singleton merely created the series, he definitely gives the show good vibes early on by establishing a motive and desire for Snowfall's vibrant subject to exist. It may be done at times in familiar ways, albeit with a catchy soundtrack, but FX continues to prove that even if its series don't hold up, they at least have promising starts.
Snowfall is one of the early great starts to this year's summer TV season. It captures an immediacy in a subject that is extremely taboo. The only question is if the show will sustain its quality, or if it's just a stylish beginning. With that said, the cast is engaging and know how to fill the world with personality. The world of South Central is immediately familiar and creates a sense of something innocent about to be destroyed. In a way, the first episode is heartbreaking because of what's to come. Despite a few bad apples, the community seems to largely be hard working and striving for betterment. The only issue is that desperation inspires bad choices, and that will hopefully only apply to Franklin and not the show runners going forward. Only time will tell if that's the case. 

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