‘Snowfall’: A Good-Looking Drug Epic

Ken Tucker
Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment
Malcolm Mays as Kevin, Damson Idris as Franklin, Isaiah John as Leon in Snowfall. (Photo: Mark Davis/FX)

A big, multilayered story its network is promoting as “How Crack Began,” Snowfall is filled with drug-selling, drug-stealing, drug-taking, and drug victims. Set in 1980s Los Angeles, the new series follows the trajectory of Franklin Saint (Damson Idris), a young man in South Central L.A. who goes from innocent idealist to hardened cynic while also serving as a way of telling the story of how crack cocaine infiltrated the South Central community and beyond.

Franklin’s story is the one that carries us along, through a number of subplots. There’s the Mexican wrestler (Sergio Peris-Mencheta) who becomes the muscleman for an ambitious young drug dealer played by The Bridge’s Emily Rios. There’s the CIA agent (Carter Hudson) who wants to infiltrate the drug underworld only partly for law enforcement — he’s that part of the agency that used drug profits to fund the Contra rebels in Nicaragua. There’s also a colorful drug lord, Avi Wexler (Alon Moni Aboutboul), who lives in a huge house where he and his underlings do some indoor bowling, using champagne bottles as pins. Smashing expensive liquor is just one way of showing us that Avi is both decadent and — his preferred term — eccentric.

Snowfall was co-created by filmmaker and screenwriter John Singleton (Boyz N the Hood, 2 Fast 2 Furious), who knows that even poor or run-down neighborhoods in Los Angeles take on a warm-glow beauty at certain moments in every day — and accordingly, the show looks great. Singleton is aided by a squadron of good directors, producers, and writers, including the excellent novelist Leonard Chang. Together, they do a fine job of summoning up the era of the 1980s with faultless period dialogue, fashion, and music.

Your degree of interest in Snowfall probably depends, however, upon your degree of interest in seeing another drug-centered drama. After big-screen sagas like GoodFellas, Scarface, and Carlito’s Way, and after small-screen epics like The Wire, is there anything new to say about the drug-slinging macho ethos and the awful toll drugs take on individuals and on impoverished communities? There are times when Snowfall tries too hard for poignant irony, such as setting the scene of a vicious beat-down endured by young Franklin to the breezy beauty of Bill Withers’s song “Lovely Day.” But if you’re in the mood for a dark but sunny, meticulously detailed TV-show-as-novel narrative, Snowfall may draw you in.

Snowfall airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.

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