Roush Review: ‘Snowfall’ Drifts Too Slowly

Snowfall - Damson Idris
Matthias Clamer/FX
Damson Idris as Franklin Saint in Snowfall

FX is promoting its ambitious new drug drama Snowfall as the story of “How Crack Began” in the early 1980s. Judging from the first season, which doesn’t even mention crack until the seventh of 10 episodes, it was an awfully slow start.

The show, co-created by director John Singleton (Boyz N the Hood), is at times engrossing and generally well-acted, especially by the charismatic Damson Idris as the multilayered story’s breakout star and most compelling character: Franklin Saint, an up-and-coming scholarship grad from South Central, which as the series begins looks like any sun-dappled Los Angeles neighborhood. Devoted to his mother (a powerful Michael Hyatt), who pays the bills evicting unfortunate tenants of her slumlord boss, Franklin is stymied by his own lack of opportunity, including the parochial weed dealing he does on behalf of his uncle Jerome (Amin Joseph).

Initially, Franklin seems way over his head as he stumbles into the cocaine trade, which before the introduction of crack was out of the price range of his regular customers. While the suspense builds as Franklin ventures into alien and treacherous territory, little about Snowfall feels fresh or urgently electrifying.

The series’ biggest problem is that Franklin’s journey, and that of his not-yet-ravaged suburban neighborhood, is subsumed by too many subplots of unequal interest. Focus shifts frequently from the authenticity of Franklin’s world to the more clichéd power struggles within a Mexican crime family, embodied by the frustrations of drug-lord daughter Lucia Villanueva (Emily Rios) to establish her own turf. This conflict is largely seen through the eyes of strong and silent Mexican wrestler Gustavo Zapata (Sergio Peris-Mencheta), whose moral code is tested in his new role as enforcer and Lucia’s admiring lover.

Even more conflicted is the protagonist of Snowfall‘s third and least successful narrative thread: exiled sad-sack CIA agent Teddy (a lugubrious Carter Hudson), who’s using drug money to help illegally fund Nicaraguan rebels, an enterprise that leads to harrowing misadventures in the South American jungle and Mexican desert. Mopey Teddy’s barely interesting enough to qualify as an antihero, and when he pines for the family he’s squandered for this risky mission, the effect is narcotic. Later, as he attempts to cover up the crimes of his more dashing Nicaraguan partner Alejandro (Juan Javier Cardenas), his incompetence is almost as comical as the plot’s sour predictability.

Tragedy clearly looms in the big picture of this slow-burning drama, and things do pick up in Episode 7 and thereafter, as Franklin’s cool business acumen takes on a much colder demeanor to friends and family alike. What a pity, though, if we end up not being addicted enough to the pedestrian storytelling to keep watching.

Snowfall, Series Premiere, Wednesday, July 5, 10/9c, FX