Monday, October 3, 2016

Conviction 1x01 Review: "Pilot" (Do You Have It In You?) [Guest Poster: Jennifer Iacopelli]

Original Airdate: October 3, 2016

On the surface, Conviction is much like any other procedural crime show. A group of well-intentioned, but complicated people come together to do good — in this case to prove the innocence of the wrongly convicted. However, it only takes one glance at the credits to know that this isn’t your ordinary show. Led by the indelible Hayley Atwell of Agent Carter fame, and supported by the likes of Eddie Cahill, Shawn Ashmore, Emily Kinney, Merrin Dungey, and Manny Montoya, Conviction has a chance to be truly remarkable television.

When we first meet Hayes Morrison (Atwell), she is in a prison cell, dancing. We’re shown in the first minute of the episode of that she’s brilliant, irreverent, and not a fan of the man who shows up to offer her a plea deal for the drug charge she’s about to be charged with, District Attorney Connor Wallace (Cahill). Throughout the episode the chemistry practically oozes from their pores whenever they’re on camera together, beautifully setting up a classic, will they-won’t they-wait did they already dynamic; however, one hopes the show will be able to put a new spin on the often successful trope.

In order to avoid charges — and embarrassing her mother’s Senate campaign — Hayes takes the job heading up the newly formed Conviction Integrity Unit, a team put together to check on possibly shady convictions and ensure justice has been done. This is where we meet the rest of the squad: ADA Sam Spencer (Ashmore), whose job Hayes had been blackmailed into taking; Tess Larson (Kinney), a paralegal who’s already made a career of overturning convictions at the Innocence Project; Maxine Bohen (Dungey), a NYPD detective who isn’t sold on the unit’s purpose; and a forensics expert, Frankie Cruz (Montoya).

Despite the aforementioned irreverence, Hayes Morrison is not someone who suffers fools gladly. As the CIU begins discussing which case they should take first, she allows ADA Spencer to take the lead and pitch cases to her, though quickly dismisses his attempts. Spencer protests that she told him to take the lead and think of her as a figurehead and Hayes responds with, “That’s before I realized you might be a moron.” She pulls no punches a moment later when she outs Frankie Cruz, revealing to the entire team that he’d been in prison.

However, later in the episode when confronted with the reason she is even at the CIU to begin with, she reveals the cocaine charges, a fun quirk in her character that tells a lot. She holds people to a high standard of no-BS, but does not hold herself to that same standard. A third of the way into the episode, the take-no-prisoners, no filter, totally secure character feels like a caricature. And then Hayes goes to talk to the murder victim’s mother. It seems Hayes Morrison does have one weakness: feelings. Rage and love — emotions that cannot be faked or glossed over or answered with a quip — those are her Achilles heel, whether they belong to her or to someone else. That vulnerability is reinforced when she attends a fundraiser for her mother’s Senate campaign belligerently wearing a dress that she — and the audience — knows her mother will loathe. It turns out that it wasn’t only Wallace who came to her rescue; her mother called in the favor. As perhaps the only person who Hayes really listens to, her mom tells her like it is: “Screw up this job and Wallace will charge you with possession with intent to distribute. This is your last chance. You are so smart and brave and amazing and have every opportunity in the world. Imagine what you could do if you actually tried if you worked at anything as hard as you do at making us all believe how little you care. The question is, do you have it in you?”

I’m willing to bet that she and Conviction do.

The case the team takes on, the conviction of a young football player for the murder of his girlfriend, often feels a little convenient: evidence found and roadblocks hurdled through helpful coincidences, but in a pilot episode that can be forgiven. And the strength in police procedurals isn’t in the crimes that they take on, but in the dynamic between the characters and so far, Conviction is off to a good start.

The tension between Hayes and Wallace is palpable; Tess Larson’s sketchy past that Hayes discovers about two-thirds of the way through the episode is sure to be explored. There will always be a natural conflict between Maxine’s police career and the work the CIU is doing; Sam Spencer is disgruntled at being passed over for Hayes’s job and will likely continue to be; and Frankie’s history — along with the insinuation in the last few moments of the episode that he is gay and that his boyfriend is still in prison — is the most intriguing.

If the cases just get slightly less easy and the cast gels like it should, ABC could have a hit on its hands.

Pilot Grade: A-


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