FX’s new drama, SNOWFALL, is about the beginning of the crack cocaine epidemic in Los Angeles. Set in 1983, the series follows several people who have different connections to the burgeoning industry. Splitting the action by ethnicity and lifestyle, SNOWFALL attempts to give us a wide-ranging overview of how this trend started.
Franklin Saint (Damson Idris, Farming) is the true lead of SNOWFALL. A young, African-American adult looking for his path, he seems trapped between childhood and the real world. Franklin decides to move from selling pot to the harder stuff after a run-in with a crazy gangster, despite knowing that his family, whom he is close to, doesn’t approve. Whether that is a decision that will pay off for him, or whether it will end tragically, that remains to be seen. I’m guessing the former if the show wants to run for any length of time, though there’s likely to be severe cost.
Coming in just behind Franklin in importance are Gustavo ‘El Oso’ Zapata (Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Resident Evil: Afterlife) and Teddy McDonald (Carter Hudson). Gustavo is a professional fighter who is joining a family of crime, while Teddy is a CIA operative who is being allowed to sell drugs to help balance tricky relations with a foreign power. Both seem over their heads more than Franklin, and it’s unclear if either can make what they’re trying to do work for them. They seem like the types of players that may have a more limited run.
There is nothing wrong with a period drama that tells the tale of a significant event or era. HBO had Boardwalk Empire and AMC had Hell On Wheels and Mad Men. But one thing those have in common is that they prioritized complex characters over illustrating the facts. Franklin may qualify, Idris keeping the role interesting, but I hardly think the other two do, nor do the myriad of supporting players. This is where SNOWFALL lacks.
Where SNOWFALL tries to make up for it is the production design, which is aces. The program shows us a full-fledged world that looks both authentic to the time and slightly magical, a little hyperreal. There are a couple of scenes where SNOWFALL beats its setting over our heads a little bit, but for the most part, this is an asset, not a liability.
The program also brings the sexiness, going a little further with mature content than I think I’ve ever seen on a basic cable series. It’s not premium network level, not like the shows on HBO for example, but there are tantalizing and explicit scenes you will not want your kids to see. Which works in SNOWFALL’s favor, as it would be nearly impossible not to go there with the content of the story, at least if they want to keep it fairly accurate.
My most recent review before this one, of Netflix’s Gypsy, lamented how well-made TV isn’t necessarily good television any more, not with the glut of really fantastic series out there right now, and the ability to go back and re-watch so many classics of the past. SNOWFALL does better than Gypsy in providing something interesting and fresh, but has the same drawback in that it could be better. Much better. And that shows.
The bottom line is, SNOWFALL lacks a strong hook that will immediately send viewers scrambling to set a season pass. Without such a thing obvious in the first episode, especially on a network like FX that is known for very strong series (I’d rank it up there with HBO and AMC for producing some of the best), this one falls a little short of the mark. Not so far that it can’t come back from it, but will people stick around to give it a chance? I don’t know, and I’m not sure if you should.
SNOWFALL premieres tonight at 10/9c on FX.