A Good Investment
On ABC’s new drama ‘Conviction.’
ABC’s Conviction premiered last week, as a sort of Monday night cousin to the network’s golden goose, Shondaland. Hayley Atwell, the title character of the recently cancelled Marvel’s Agent Carter, stars as Hayes Morrison, a brilliant attorney with a “scandalous” history as the daughter of a former president (her father) and a current senatorial candidate (her mother). After getting busted for cocaine possession, Hayes takes the “out,” given by the District Attorney and (most likely) former lover, and accepts the job offer to run the city’s Conviction Integrity Unit, since she’s currently on probation from her university for sleeping with a student (“students,” she corrects).
“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,” says Harper Morrison, Hayes’ mother, as she explains the details of her daughter’s head of CIU or jail ultimatum. It’s the way Hayes’ eyes fill that we first see this very human, but very jaded side of her. Hayes Morrison is certainly a female antihero, but she truly does justice to the trope, as the slightly off-kilter moral compass that drives her ultimately points in the right direction when it comes to the long run.
Hayes’ Conviction Integrity Unit consists of Sam Spencer (played by Shawn Ashmore), a former prosecutor and the person that was initially supposed to run the unit; Maxine Bohen (played by Merrin Dungey), a former, second generation detective; Franklin “Frankie” Cruz (played by Manny Montana), a former convict and current forensics expert; and Tess Larson (played by Emily Kinney), a paralegal with a particular interest in eye witness testimonies. Each member brings their own skill set (often the result of a particularly relevant personal history), and individual drive for justice to the team, which was put together by Hayes’ former law adversary and current New York District Attorney Conner Wallace (played by Eddie Cahill).
“They have this sort of mental orgasm between each other when they’re together,” Atwell says in an interview, regarding Conner and Hayes’ “relationship.” While their past is romantically ambiguous, the chemistry is undeniable. It puts a spin on the modern will-they-won’t-they television trope, with an underlying sense of they already have.
While only briefly shown in the pilot, Jackson Morrison (Hayes’ brother) promises to be a solid character, as he’s her best friend and someone whom she obviously trusts wholeheartedly. He’s also played by Daniel Franzese (Damian, “she doesn’t even go here,” from Mean Girls), so it’s a pleasure to see such a familiar face on screen again. Franzese’s character serves as the campaign manager for Harper Morrison in the senate race, so he’ll continue to bring in the familial ties in an otherwise case based procedural.
It puts a spin on the modern ‘will-they-won’t-they’ television trope, with an underlying sense of ‘they already have.’
The setup of the drama is simple enough, with the team members investigating one of New York City’s many convictions every five days, before making a recommendation to the DA’s office, as to whether the case should be revisited or not. It’s a bit like an expedited version of the Innocence Project, except that the members don’t go into the case on the assumption that the convicted individual is innocent, and they’re not the ones to present the findings in court.
The show is trying to find its individual spot on a network that is currently being carried by its franchises (the aforementioned Shonda Rhimes productions, along with The Bachelor and all of its incarnations). It’s a shifting landscape at ABC right now, with dramas like Mistresses and Castle coming to a close, and Designated Survivor, Notorious, and Quantico (2015) starting up. Conviction will undoubtably have a bit of a bumpy start, but there’s promise here. Yes, the first case was a bit generic and yes, Hayley Atwell certainly carries the show, but it’s good television in an era of concrete hits or misses. It’s worth the watch.