At first glance, a John Singleton produced a show about the beginning of the crack epidemic in Los Angles seems promising. Add in the presence of FX as the studio, and TV fans were quickly excited. This made “Snowfall” one of the more anticipated shows of the 2017 summer, with many wondering if Singleton would use it as a return to form. The director has disappeared from feature films over the past decade, and with “Boyz N the Hood” reaching classic status during this time, most audiences have realized his talent.
Unfortunately, “Snowfall” does not rise to the quality of Singleton’s famed movie, or his other projects over the past few years. “Snowfall” follows three story lines to examine the various communities and entities involved in the introduction of crack cocaine to the inner city. One storyline follows a young black man in the inner city, slowly building up from selling marijuana to selling cocaine. Another follows a CIA agent as he begins to traffic cocaine through the cartels. Finally, the third follows a Mexican wrestler who has left his former life and begun guarding the daughter of a Mexican drug lord.
The three storylines overlap with some frequency, yet none of them progress substantially through the first couple episodes. While some characters do move in their status, the primary thing holding back the show so far is that 90% of the series seems to be exposition. Even worse, the series seems to believe this exposition can be disguised as dramatic tension. One scene between a member of a cartel and a CIA agent simply states facts about CIA’s involvement in Latin America during the 1980s. A couple of times, characters are caught up in telling the audience how much the cocaine is worth, and where all the money is going in the operation. This is wasted dialogue, especially because audiences interested in this kind of show are already aware of how much money is in the drug game.
Many of the same issues present in “Snowfall” are the same issues that plagued “Vinyl” on HBO. Characters give long soliloquies about their drug use and their purpose in life. Meanwhile, period specific music blares from every angle. Unfortunately, the wise cracking and fun side of the “Snowfall” world clashes heavily with the seedy underbelly of the drug world. While other shows that feature organized crime have found ways to be extremely funny, this one is missing this aspect. The topic it is covering is a serious one, but when shows are too self-serious, it makes them hard to be enjoyable.
Perhaps the biggest issue in the episodes so far is that crack is not directly mentioned in the first few episodes. For a show about crack’s introduction to Los Angeles, the series should have dropped us into the world where crack was the new drug on the street. Yet the first episode follows the sale of cocaine, a subtle but important difference in the war on drugs. One is seen as the rich and white drug. The other has been used to systematically imprison young black and Latino men for 35 years. By avoiding its mention, the show draws an uneasy parallel between the two, that rhetorically is problematic, to say the least.
The series does have some upside that could come to fruition, either this season or next. The largest upside comes from its main character, young actor Damson Idris. Idris is the obvious star of the show and should evolve into a solid actor in the years to come. He perfectly provides us a newcomer’s view into the cocaine fueled drug world. He also showcases a range of emotions in different moments that gives the audience an easy character to link to. Without Idris, there’s a chance the show would be full of mostly forgettable characters.
The production design is solid, and the world feels like South Central in the 1980s. On occasion, the cinematographer gets caught up in attempts to recreate better moments from previous movies. The pilot that tries a little too hard to be controversial in displaying the world the characters inhabit. No scene felt more out of place than a walk through a porn set. Yes, the porn industry and cocaine were linked in the early 1980s. However, why is there a weaker tracking shot through a porn house? The scene echoes of Jack Horner’s house from “Boogie Nights,” yet feels inferior in every way. Overall, the show is inconsistent, yet well shot.
At the end of the day, “Snowfall” suffers from too many issues to be the drug show to recommend. At times, the show echoes of promise. In some instances, it evokes imagery and mood reminiscent of “Narcos” or other drug movies. The problem is, “Narcos” shows were much stronger at managing their multiple storylines than this one. If the series focused solely on Idris, the show might have been stronger. Yet multiple storylines needed to explore the topic. The series is almost too ambitious in its scope, and unfortunately, the execution isn’t quite there.