Just as I was beginning to despair at the dearth of good TV shows since The Leftovers and Fargo finished, FX flies into town like Santa with their new crack cocaine drama, Snowfall.
John Singleton takes us back to the very streets where his Boyz in Da Hood characters hustled, though at the time Snowfall is set – 1983, Dough Boy, Tre and Dooky were probably still in fifth grade proclaiming “I ain’t from Africa, I’m Crenshaw Mafia… you African booty scratcher.”
TODAY WAS A GOOD DAY
The Californian sun shines down on the palm-lined streets of South Central to show us that these were happier times, when electro filled music halls and when rappers dressed and sounded like homemade Starship Troopers. Happier times before gangsta rap and crack cocaine and before houses needed bars on the windows (which Singleton had removed for these shots).
In amongst these glorious sun-drenched opening shots we see our protagonist, Franklin return fiddy cents worth of confectionery that some kids steal from an ice-cream van; because stealing isn’t the American way… yet.
But it doesn’t take him long to change his mind!
Franklin lives with his gun-toting real estate renting mom, sells weed for his uncle and cavorts with the other half where he went to school in The Valley; rich, poolside porn-making, cocaine-snorting white folk.
I DIDN’T EVEN HAVE TO USE MY A.K.
The pilot episode’s inciting incident comes when Franklin is introduced to an insane, speedo-wearing Israeli drug dealer who fronts him a kilo of coke which, with the help of his Aunt Louie, Franklin sells to a matriarchal night club owner.
These scintillating club scenes have a Tarantino meets Gotham gloss to them and the show is helped by some excellent music choices, ranging from electro funk daddies Newcleus to the expertly used Nina Simone’s Don’t Let Me be Misunderstood for one pivotal, emotional scene at the back end of the episode.
Young British actor Damson Idris is so believable and his character, Franklin so vulnerable and likeable that, by the end of the hour, you’re left aching for more episodes.
But Snowfall also tells two other, intertwined stories and herein lies its problem.
The first features a CIA Agent, Teddy McDonald who covers up the overdose of his colleague (Officer Logan Miller who has coke blown up his ass with a straw bringing a new meaning to the words ass crack) before a Freddie Mercury-looking Contra soldier introduces him to fifty wayward kilos of cocaine.
Teddy’s idea is to sell the coke off-the-CIA-books to fund the sale of government arms to anti-communist rebels in Nicaragua. I think.
The third interconnected storyline concerns an aging Mexican Lucha Libre wrestler, Gustavo who sidelines as a burglar and is recruited into what seems to be a Mexican drug cartel by a power-hungry second-in-command named Lucia.
I say “think” and “what seems to be” because these plot threads are so underdeveloped in comparison to Franklin’s brilliantly told tale. As so often is the case with intertwining stories, not enough time is spent explaining who’s who at the top of the story and this can lead to ongoing uncertainty as to their roles.
Of course, as a period drama about the birth of crack cocaine, these three The Wire-like regular, medium and bigger pictures are bound to all come together but just like Startup – Crackle’s 2016 bitcoin crime drama, the lesser stories might leave you scratching your head and itching to get back to Story A; Franklin.
The crack which Reagan’s government pushed into black neighbourhoods while Nancy urged them to Just Say No helped pay for right wing Latin American puppet politicians meaning there’s a huge, far-reaching story to tell here. I just hope Exec Producers Dave Andron (Justified) and John Singleton can cope with those depths and Snowfall isn’t just a light dusting.
Snowfall continues on July 12th on FX.