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Snowfall - Pilot - Review: "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood"

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Snowfall 1.01 - Pilot - Review:
Directed by Adil El Arbi & Bilall Fallah, Written by Dave Andron & Eric Amadio & John Singleton

Snowfall was one of my most anticipated shows of the Summer mainly due to the concept more than anything, and the fact that I've enjoyed shows with a similiar concept - Narcos and The Wire of course, before, and I was interested to see where this latest offering from FX would take us, especially as FX itself has plenty of quality in its lineup going into this show with the likes of Justified, The Americans and Fargo being a string hit successes that most cable networks would kill for, and any show from the network that's given us these three masterpieces deserves at least to have its pilot sampled. This show itself also has the involvement of John Singleton, the man behind films like 1991's Boyz in the Hood and the second Fast and Furious film. So I was certainly interested to see how this show would play out, and whilst it got off on a familiar start with nothing really original here, as anyone who's seen any movie or television show like this before will quickly put together - there are shades of influence from Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas in this for example, as well as that from Tarantino's movies, and as a result, those looking for anything new - or the next People vs. OJ Simpson, will be quickly disappointed. But those looking for a confident, polished drama about the rise of the crack cocaine industry in America - aka Narcos from the other side of the border if you will, will not be disappointed.

This show has all the retro elements of a thriller to it. It's pulpy, it has several moments of self-indulgence, and may appear slow at times, but for me, this is exactly the sort of thing that appeals to me. Its atmosphere for one is incredible, it really immerses you in the era with a great feel for the setting and backdrop. The music too is fantastic, with songs like Daryl Hall and John Oates' Maneater being used as well as Nina Simone's powerful Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood being two well placed songs that I caught over the course of the episode that help add an extra layer of depth to the show. It's certainly starting to make a case for the best soundtrack from any show currently airing, and granted there isn't much to pick from at the moment, but it still really helps nail the atmosphere well, which is something that's common across a lot of FX's series. The main strength here will be the characters and as this is one of those shows that is almost certainly best saved for a binge-watch rather than a week to week viewing as a result of its rather slow pace, with Singleton, Eric Amadio, and Dave Andron really using this show as a way to flesh out the lives of the people who lived in 1983 L.A. Its characters are fascinating, and I'm really looking forward to seeing their development over the course of the series.

The racial dynamics that the show explores here are compelling and nuanced, even if it isn't exactly subtle in places when you have a character walking around named Franklin Saint, for example. He's played by Damson Idris, who you may recognise from the movie City of Tiny Lights, and an episode each of Miranda and Babylon. Franklin quickly falls in with the wrong crowd when he is taken under the wing of gangster Avi Drexler(Alon Aboutboul). The way they're dealing with the relationship between Avi and Franklin so far is played well, with Avi using Franklin as a middleman for his drug habits. Franklin uses his connections with weed on a small time scale to get the white kids at school their fix, but it's going to be interesting to see whether the character who serves as our window into this world will rise over the course of this episode. How far will he go? The fact that this show has put so much care into its characters only bodes well for the future, because once the real drama starts to develop, we'll be quickly attached to them.

CIA Agent Teddy McDonald is another character who you'll meet in the pilot, played by Carter Hudson in his first major screen role. Here he plays a part in the War on Drugs when he's thrust back into the thick of things after a fellow agent turns up dead after overdosing on cocaine with connections to an operation designed to keep pushing the supply of coke forward in the U.S. This tackles familiar ground again, no surprises there - it's an area that will be covered in the upcoming movie American Made starring Tom Cruise for one as well as in Narcos of course and whilst we do get the sense of "been there, done that", it does handle this approach with confidence and no doubt things will get better as the storylines grow and we have a few episodes under our belt. It's always difficult to judge a pilot on its own without looking it at the context of the rest of the series, as there's still so much room for growth. It's why I do my best to give shows that mildly interest me at least four episodes before deciding whether not to drop them, and this is something that you should consider doing with Snowfall if you weren't too won over by this pilot. It has potential to grow and I'm really looking forward to seeing the direction that it will take us in. Could the show explore real life events like the Iran-Contra scandal? Hopefully, there's too much areas not to ignore.

Another storyline that the show deals with is Gustavo “El Oso” Zapata (Sergio Peris-Mencheta), a wrestler looking to make it big. He doesn't cross paths in any significant way with the characters above this early on but things quickly go south for him when he finds himself in over his head looking at a dead body in the aftermath of a botched robbery. Classic gangster stuff there, and hopefully his story improves over time because for me it was the weakest part here. But then again, the show has to balance all these storylines at once, so it's no wonder even in a series as confident as this one, that there will be some hiccups along the way.

The series itself does a good job at showing that it won't shy away from tackling the morally grey area of character development. There are no straightforward good guys or bad guys here and everyone will no doubt explore multiple sides of the spectrum over the course of the series. This for me remains the most fascinating approach that the series is taking so far and I'm looking forward to seeing how things play out as everything gets more and more complex. For now it's still early days and the slow paced nature and familiar feel of the series may be off-putting to some, but for me, I'm on board this ride for now.

What did you think of Snowfall's pilot? Let me know in the comments below and check out the next episode this Wednesday at 10pm on FX.

About the Author - Milo MJ
Milo is an Arsenal FC supporter and loves TV shows like Battlestar Galactica, Justified, Black Sails, The Americans and Person of Interest. He reviews Preacher, The Mist, Star Wars Rebels, Silicon Valley, Snowfall and Veep for Spoiler TV and will be covering Castle Rock, Counterpart, Krypton, Marvel's New Warriors, Rise, Marvel's Runaways, Succession, Star Trek Discovery, and Trust. He also contributes to comic reviews on a weekly basis for All-Comic. He also regularly watches and reviews films on Letterboxd, and you can find his ever-changing list of 300 favourite movies here.
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