July 6, 2017

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Snowfall”


SNOWFALL:  Wednesday 10PM on FX – In the Queue

It used to make sense to judge a new TV series based on its pilot, because the pilot was a template of all the episodes that would follow.  In the serialized, bingeable TV era, though, an opening hour is often just an introduction to the story and characters, and sometimes even a preface.  So FX’s new SNOWFALL may have done all its heavy lifting in its pilot, and future episodes may be more gripping and original than what we’ve seen so far.  However, it’s fair to say that the series isn’t off to a striking start.

Snowfall doesn’t lack for ambition.  Created by filmmaker John Singleton, Eric Amadio and Justified‘s Dave Andron, it intends to be a Traffic-style multifaceted drug saga, both a street-level thriller and a high-altitude history of the introduction of cheap crack cocaine to South Central LA circa 1983–and by extension, to all African-American communities in the US.  The pilot introduces a trio of protagonists whose lives at this point barely touch:  Franklin (Damson Idris), who wants to rise from his South Central home and weed selling sideline to greater wealth by dealing cocaine for colorful Israeli trafficker Avi (Alon Aboutboul); disgraced CIA officer Teddy (Carter Hudson), who joins an Agency plan to sell coke in order to buy arms for Nicaraguan contras; and wrestler Gustavo (Sergio Peris-Mencheta), hired by Mexican cartel members Lucia (Emily Rios) and Pedro (Filipe Valle Costa) to serve their interests.

Even if the specific combination of storylines is new, in the early going Snowfall doesn’t make anything original out of them, and despite an expanded 80-minute running time, it does little to convince us that its characters are worth following.  Franklin is a figure who seems generic compared to similar hustlers on shows like The Wire and its successors, Teddy is familiar from any number of morally gray spy thrillers, and Gustavo is barely established as a character at all.  The strongest initial impression comes from Avi, and not in a good way:  he’s the drug genre’s seemingly requisite reminder of Alfred Molina in Boogie Nights.

Pilot directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah provide slick visuals but no distinctive sense of style, and the pace feels slow, perhaps because the material we’ve seen so far is so routine and superficial that one might wish for a fast-forward button.  (It’s worth noting that this is the second version of the pilot:  the junked original was written by Singleton and Amadio alone, and directed by Singleton; Andron, El Arbi and Fallah were brought in for the second try.)  The actors are fine, and Idris is particularly able to hold the camera’s gaze.  None of them, however, is able to suggest depths worth exploring in their characters.

Snowfall certainly has potential, particularly in Franklin and Teddy’s stories, and the tale of how powder cocaine became crack–a concept not even mentioned in the opening episode–is a provocative and far-reaching subject.  At its start, however, the series is less than addictive

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."