Of course, this Conviction ABC pilot has nothing to do with the NBC 2006 short-lived Law & Order:SVU spin-off series of the same name. I dunno if they plan to change the title at some point but if they don’t, it shouldn’t be a problem. Who remembers the other show? For starters, I have to answer your burning questions about this Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) at the center of the story, ‘cos I’m sure you have a ton of them. First and foremost, yes it does exist in real life. In L.A. but also in some other cities (Dallas, Baltimore, New Orleans, New York, Chicago…). For how long? It’s pretty recent actually. The L.A. office only opened last year for instance. In 2007 for Dallas. Does it work? That I don’t know, but based on a few articles I read on the internet, this effort got a reasonable amount of fanfare and also a bit of skepitiscim. Finally, is it worth making a TV show about it? I’d say yes. At least by judging this pretty decent pilot script.
Have you ever heard the term “charactercedural”? That’s the word Dick Wolf used to describe his Conviction when it launched and that’s a word I will use to describe this one as well, and many pilots this season, so it seems. It basically means a procedural that deals extensively with characters’ back stories and personal lives. Scandal started as such, before it became less and less procedural and heavily serialized. Dick Wolf’s Chicago franchise also works this way. That being said, it’s mostly a matter of dosage. Straight procedurals don’t exist anymore but CBS shows like Criminals Minds, CSI:Cyber or Scorpion tend to rely on the serialized elements much less. And for a very good and not artistic reason: it sells better in syndication. It’s easier for reruns. My comparison with Scandal is not an innocent one. In many ways, Conviction resembles the Shonda Rhimes show. At least what it was at the beginning. It has something to do with the political background but not only.
I know some of you hated the first version of Scandal. I thought it had a big potential and hopefully they did the right thing making it bolder, louder, kinkier after a few episodes. I feel the same way about Conviction at this point. It has what it takes, the characters it needs, to become exciting and even addictive, but as of now, the pilot is too sober and too flat. It’s fast-paced and there are funny moments, because those guys are funnier than expected, but they lack eccentricism in my opinion. And our heroin, Carter Morrison, tries too hard being cool and detached. Plus, she’s too buzzy being sexy. Olivia Pope is sexy because she is. Because Kerry Washington is. Not because the writers absolutely wanted her to be. Let Hayley Atwell being her sexy self without underlining it with a huge pencil, please. Carter is a rebel with a cause. She doesn’t fight with her legs and fists -she doesn’t have to- but she fights with her words and her attitude. She’s like a more intellectual Jessica Jones (same writer). And she’s a mess. She stands up to her boss. Her family. Her colleagues. Any men. Any women. Everybody.
The rest of the team is composed of Sam Sullivan (Shawn Ashmore), an handsome thirtysomething who was supposed to be the boss of CIU before Carter came out of nowhere; Tess (Emily Kinney), a young blonde paralegal who looks naive but who’s not; Frankie (Manny Montana), the forensics expert, a nerd who went to prison for quite some time; and finally Maxine, an ancient LAPD detective in her forties, who’s as stubborn as Carter. On paper, the dynamics between those five totally work. The case of the week, the first the team has to tackle, is smartly chosen, timely: a black man who may have been wrongly accused of the murder of his girlfriend, 15 years ago. In the show, there’s a different type of suspense than in the vast majority of other legal dramas: it’s not whether the accused will be found guilty or not in the end, since he has already been, but is he REALLY guilty or not… It doesn’t make that huge a difference but in this television landscape filled with this type of shows, any difference is welcome.
The script of Conviction does exactly what a pilot of a “charactercedural” is supposed to: meeting the leader and her team, giving a hint about their respective secrets -cos of course they all do have some- solving the first case in the same fashion as the next 250 episodes -if they’re very lucky- and giving us enough reasons to come back (good dynamics, funny lines, gimmicks…). Check check check. Now, Conviction is left with two choices if it’s ordered to series: staying a bit basic and boring people quickly OR taking the Scandal route. We’re on ABC. I think the right answer is obvious… Hayley Atwell can slay in this. And sometimes, the right actress is just enough to turn something correct into something really good!