Friday, September 18, 2015

'Quantico' Unexpectedly Shocks and Awes With Its Pilot

Quantico, "Run"
Season premiere: September 27, 2015

I'm not a huge fan of surprises, honestly. As someone who considers herself to be very type-A, very organized, and just a touch of a perfectionist, I like being able to plan. I'm not a huge fan of spontaneity, as I like being able to know exactly what to expect from an event.

I honestly was not expecting to love Quantico. At all. I mostly watched it because out of all of the pilots available on the ABC press site, this one looked like it had some semblance of promise. It was going to be gritty and drama-filled: like a Homeland-lite. Or so I thought. And though this series does contain some elements that make it uniquely fit for ABC (the soapy drama, the wit, the charming bad boys, the ensemble of misfit characters, etc.), what I found was that it really was just a solid pilot overall and provided an amazing foundation for what is sure to be an epic series.

Quantico is, unlike every show on CBS, not a procedural. It's not about a case-of-the-week, but it focuses heavily on characterization and each individual in the pilot is incredibly well fleshed-out for only having 40 minutes in which to do so. There are a few dangling archetypes that are present, but for the most part, the series is grounded on two things that make it an absolutely perfect fit for ABC: secrets and lies. Oh, and did I mention that it's a bit of a soap opera? Essentially, if you're a fan of ABC, you'll be a fan of this. One of the strongest elements that I found in the pilot, however, was that the soap opera element (while a bit exaggerated in some instances) really melded well with the plot. This is a show about FBI recruits and -- though the trailers hint at this -- each of them has a past. I've heard it said before that we each have a deep secret that, if was made known to the people close to us would cause us to flee and never return. That's essentially what the first episode of Quantico is all about: it's a show that explores what it means to have a secret and what that secret can propel you to do, for better or for worse.

At its best, this is a show about how far people will go to protect their secrets. It's a pilot that fixates on pressure points -- we each have them and, when pressed, they can lead us to do dangerous things. It's a series that I can already tell will be about duality. About the internal war that exists within us, the struggle for the truth and also for self-preservation; for covering up our mistakes and misdeeds. No one in this pilot is cut-and-dry, which is really refreshing. And, as I noted before, even though "Run" does provide us with some ghosts of archetypes (the pretty, blonde Southern belle; the attractive and spoiled rich kid; the awkward, nerdy one, etc.), it does a really good job breaking some of those archetypes, too.

For example, Alex Parrish (Priyanka Chopra) is the lead of the series. A bit more cynical and quick-witted, I immediately assumed Alex would absorb the "lone wolf" archetype. But I was pleasantly surprise that the writers chose to not make her standoffish or guarded and jaded, like they could have easily done. Instead, Alex gets along with her fellow recruits, genuinely supports and cares about them, and makes friends easily (with teasing and a bit of sarcasm, of course). That's really important to me, and I think that Priyanka is an absolute gem in this role. The pilot gave her ample opportunities to explore every facet of Alex -- the sassy and witty; the genuinely terrified and insecure; the noble and defensive. Actually, it was really refreshing to see Alex terrified throughout a lot of the pilot episode's present-day scenes (especially at the end of the pilot). I liked that she wasn't calm and level-headed when she was in the face of a crisis. I like that she showed so much depth and vulnerability to her. That's what makes her a relatable woman and a relatable character. Priyana will only get better, I am sure, as the series progresses and she has more opportunities to thrive as an actress and more emotional depth to mine from.

But honestly, a series is only as engaging as its lead. And Priyana is a strong one. That's not to say that the rest of the cast is, by any means, weak. The rest of the FBI recruits are amazing, too. By far, my favorite is Simon (Tate Ellington), a gay, Jewish, adorable character who proves that he's going to be a force to be reckoned with in this show. It'd be simple to cast Simon as the comedic relief (which he easily provides in spades in "Run"), but the interrogation scene proves just how much power Tate Ellington possesses -- he can switch from endearing and adorable to cool and detached with relative ease. Ryan Booth (Jake McLaughlin) is immediately a delight, while you'll immediately hate Caleb Haas (Graham Rogers) and probably hate him even more as the pilot progresses. That may change, for reasons, toward the end of the episode. Even if you still hate him at the episode's end, Graham gave an amazing performance in a pool-side scene.

The ladies in the show are AWESOME. You'll fall in love with the character Caleb calls "Taylor Swift": Shelby Wyatt (Johanna Braddy), who is already amazing and nuanced and also extremely gorgeous. Nimah Anwar (Yasmine Al Massri) is SO good in an opening sequence where she basically shuts down stereotyping. And I won't spoil it for you, but one of my favorite scenes in the pilot involved Nimah. Plus, SIMON SPENDS THE ENTIRE EPISODE TRYING TO BECOME BEST FRIENDS WITH NIMAH AND IT'S SO ADORABLE. I can tell that I'm going to love Tate and Yasmine sharing scenes together.

Even though the pilot dives into some pretty dark topics (again, I won't spoil it for you but there are secrets that emerge and they're game-changing ones), the humor in the show is light. There's literally a hilarious plot-moving, meta moment where Shelby -- trying to find out what Caleb's secret is -- laments that she can't find anything wrong with him. Literally RUNNING UP to Shelby and Nimah, Alex says: "Oh right, you guys weren't there." And then the show flashes back to a mini-montage of events that proved Caleb can't do anything that requires physical strength or FBI skills. It's great in its blatant meta humor. Additionally -- and apropos of nothing except that I would like to mention it -- ABC has the actual best music department. The song selections for the pilot were stellar (and included "Octahate," which is my jam these days.)

The entire pilot episode's FBI Quantico shenanigans (in which the recruits are told to choose a file of a fellow recruit and figure out a secret that has been redacted in their file because "even if there are no leads, there are always clues" WHICH SHOULD BE THE TAGLINE FOR ABC) is framed by a terrorist attack which, if you've seen the trailers or promos for the series, know is being pinned on one of the FBI recruits. Don't trust newly-cast Josh Hopkins as Liam O'Connor. Dude is shady and you'll discover why soon enough. Of course, I won't give away too many spoilers for you guys because I want you to enjoy the twists and turns, but suffice it to say that there's a conspiracy afoot and "trust no one" is an applicable phrase to apply not just to Pretty Little Liars, but to Quantico as well.

Quantico isn't a perfect pilot, but it's definitely one of the most engaging one that I've seen thus far this season. I hope that the series continues utilizing its characters as its base and strays away from the pitfalls that have ensnared other series before it (leaning too heavily on melodrama, fixating on the soapy romances above the interesting characters, etc.). The show could do a lot with what it already has and hopefully it becomes another Shonda-like success for the network.

Pilot Rating:


  1. Awesome review. Can't wait for the show. PC is one of my favorite actress. Looking forward to her TV debut.

  2. great review! the cast seems great and super excited to see more of the lead Priyanka

  3. First things first it's great to see some more diversity amongst leading roles on TV. For this reason alone I hope this show makes it. The pilot (like all pilots, really) was a bit uneven, but I loved a lot of the back-and-forth dialogue exchanges between the recruits, and of course the best part was Priyanka Chopra in the lead role.

    Also loved that they used "Raising Hands Raising Hell Raise 'Em High" by The Wind & The Wave during the scene when Alex tucks the Ziploc bag back under her bed and she sees Ryan getting ready to shower in their shared bathroom that song makes me want to learn how to square dance or something.