Quantico, a Melodrama with a Side of Cheese

Terrorist attack, FBI, mystery, investigation, inside job. These are the themes of Joshua Safran’s new ABC show “Quantico” which explores a topic covered a dozen times before. It hits on all the key target words to make a national audience interested, and it has a diverse cast of improbably good looking recruits. But these alone aren’t enough to make this show watchable or even begin to approach an accurate representation of the FBI in the manner in which it masquerades.

This review will discuss Quantico’s pilot (“Run”) in its entirety, sampling from throughout its duration. The majority of the plot points can already be gleaned from the trailer, but there are still references to scenes that may be considered spoilers by some. Read at your own risk.

Quantico opens with a close up shot of Alex Parish (played by Priyanka Chopra) lying sooty but completely unscathed on a pile of rubble at the edge of what used to be Grand Central Station in New York City. From the show’s trailers we know we’re witnessing the result of a terrorist attack and also that Chopra will be our protagonist, a brilliant and attractive FBI recruit who soon exhibits Sherlockian abilities of deduction (albeit without the panache of the master himself). Chopra, Bollywood superstar and former Miss World, is a competent actress who appears well suited to her role in this over the top drama. The overall tone of the show feels quite similar to a Shonda Rhimes melodrama which, while likely to attract a large audience, isn’t a style suited to a show about terrorism. Chopra’s character, Alex Parrish, is a self-confident young woman from a broken home who openly challenges any obstacles that appear before her.  She is good at what she does and thinks she is even better.

Like the hit show “How to Get Away with Murder,” Quantico is told through a long series of flashbacks. The terrorist attack, with Chopra as its primary witness, becomes a lens through which the recruits’ histories are examined, both at and before the FBI Academy. While the flashback structure is neither new nor innovative, it is still a compelling storytelling device. Far less compelling is the show’s decision to make Chopra the main suspect of the attack. Surprise! She is being framed! What follows next is one of the worst vehicular chases ever to grace a screen. I can’t decide which aspect of the chase is worse—the abrupt choreography (it only lasts for less than five blocks) or the bumbling cinematography (designed no doubt to keep to a low budget).

Making matters worse, there are also a dozen subplots occurring just out of reach. Given that this series was created by Joshua Safran (“Smash” and “Gossip Girl”), the amount of drama really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, and certainly subplots are staple features of other shows with the same theme—think “Homeland” and “Covert Affairs.” What makes Quantico reach excessive levels is the sheer number of characters involved. The supporting cast is ridiculously large and every member of the cast seems to have their own secrets, doubts, and drama. Drama is definitely the main currency of the show. But unfortunately many of the characters and plotlines border on the melodramatic, which makes the show difficult to take seriously. While this has the effect of making Quantico feel like it is set in high school rather then in the FBI Academy, when viewed through the lens of investigating the terrorist attack it becomes more interesting, although no less annoying.

More promising are Quantico’s brief forays into examining prejudices and the risks of judging people based solely on their religion, gender, race, and sexuality. Although the cast does come off a bit like a stereotypical diversity picture from a college brochure, the multitude of perspectives Quantico embraces could possibly lead to excellent social commentary in a popular, digestible vein. So far though Quantico is a mediocre, angsty diversion that only has the potential to become profound. The next few episodes should reveal whether Quantico is capable of such meta-analysis or is too bogged down in sensationalized drama to even effectively tell its own story.

Grade: C+ (Unoriginal but not entirely uninteresting; problematic melodrama with a dash of intrigue.)

Rating: TV-14/TV-PG.  If there is a fourteen-year old parent in the room, anyone can watch it.

Quantico, ABC, Sunday 10/9C