Despite the bountiful talents of Agent Carter's Hayley Atwell and an exciting premise, the first episode of ABC's new procedural drama struggles to impress.
Since cancelling its flagship crime drama Castle earlier this year, ABC is on the hunt for its next great procedural drama. With its case-of-the-week structure and exciting premise, Conviction could have been a homerun for the network. Unfortunately, despite a snappy opening which orientates viewers within a world akin to NBC’s hugely successful and sexy legal drama Suits, this pilot fails to get off the ground.
Conviction stars Hayley Atwell, who is familiar to many as Peggy Carter in the prematurely cancelled (by ABC) Marvel property Agent Carter. She plays Hayes Morrison, a brilliant attorney and former First Daughter, wrestling with a cocaine habit. Hayes is blackmailed by New York’s district attorney Connor Wallace (Eddie Cahill) into heading the Conviction Integrity Unit to ‘examine claims of innocence for the incarcerated.’ Breaking free of the tried and tired cops solving a murder trope, Conviction should become an instant success. Sadly though, Atwell is just about its only redeeming feature.
Atwell dazzles, bringing warmth and humour to this feisty party girl with a law degree. She’s confident, ambitious, funny, intelligent, sexy and profane – in other words she’s everything that you could want in a lawyer. But unfortunately, even Atwell’s talents cannot completely save this character. Hayes is made overly complex due to the creators’ preposterous need to cram too much detail into too little space, leading her to become a somewhat dislikeable character. This is mainly caused by Hayes’ motives for working on the case, switching from indifference to devotion to self-preservation at breakneck pace, her motives incredibly difficult to understand. Add to that her resentful attitude towards her politically inclined parents and numerous aggressive relationships and you have an entire seasons worth of exploration hastily delivered in less than forty-five minutes.
In contrast, the rest of the team ironically suffers insufficient character development, leaving their potential largely unexplored. Atwell’s co-stars therefore have little more to play with than two-dimensional representations of stock characters. This is especially frustrating given the calibre of talent, which includes The Walking Dead alum Emily Kinney as a paralegal ingénue with a dark past, and Alias’ Merrin Dungey as a bitter cop with a chip on her shoulder. It’s clear that there is still much to learn about these characters, so it will be interesting to see how they develop over the course of the season.
At the close of the first episode, there is the definite impression that perhaps the most entertaining and indeed important element of Conviction will be its characters. The premise might be exciting, but the predictability of the case, and an overreliance on visual cues associated with the genre makes this a rather disappointing development within the genre.
On the surface, Conviction is an energising breath of fresh air, but struggles with being so crammed full of squandered stars, exposition and tired genre conventions. Atwell’s Hayes may be the last chance for those failed by the American justice system, but it is she who is failed once again by ABC, who persist in squandering her talents, and waste an opportunity to make crime dramas great once more.
Conviction airs on Sky Living every Wednesday at 9pm, with the first episode available to view on Sky Go.