Directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah painted a vibrant landscape of early 80s LA juxtaposing between the boundless energy and promise of the era with its unfettered seediness and corruption. The West was still very much wild in the early eighties, with all manner of players attempting to cut a huge swath in a largely untouched market. Arbi and Fallah effectively convey the volatility of the era with a series of garnish scenarios filled with a handful of eccentrics and cutthroats. Like most things in Los Angeles, underneath the pleasing aesthetic is a seedy underbelly where the slightest hesitation or inability to demonstrate your value will have your life in forfeit.
In this powerfully charged, labyrinthine premiere, we’re steadily introduced to the main players in this web of intrigue, all of whom are determined to gain their freedom by any means necessary. Though they come from various walks of life, the only means these players set their designs in motion the with the exploitation and poisoning of hundreds of thousands of Americans – from the affluent to the disenfranchised. The drug trade during the 80s was a scourge in the truest sense of the word, effectively destroying whole neighborhoods, predominantly persons of color. The first of which may occur due to one of its most promising community leaders seeking a break from the “rigged game”.
Much of Snowfall followed the exploits of Franklin Saint (Damson Idris), a young man who dreams of a comfortable for himself and his mother Cissy – played by Michael Hyatt – who is becoming more emotionally frayed with each passing day. Due to the economic difficulties within the Saint household, Franklin proudly maintains a strong work ethic while balancing a 9 to 5 and occasionally dealing for his Uncle Jerome. In spite of doing (mostly) the right thing, Franklin can feel he’s approaching an impasse and is willing to risk his reputation and life to improve his standing in the world – even if it means he’ll have to deal with a pair of unscrupulous gangsters.
Thanks to a cowardly white friend seeking a buffer between himself and the eccentric Avi Drexler (Alon Moni Aboutboul), Saint thrusts himself in a dangerous lifestyle where the risk almost always outweighs the reward. Given 24 hours to turn a kilo of coke into 16 grand, Saint relies on his Aunt Louie (Angela Lewis) and her equally lethal and unforgiving contact Claudia Crane (Judith Scott) to create a new client base for the mercurial Drexler. In spite of Avi’s disbelief and his Aunt and Uncle’s concerns, Franklin races further down the rabbit hole in the hopes he’ll see light at the end of the tunnel. Little does Franklin know, he’s entered a vicious cycle that doesn’t have an ‘out’. The money will come as the demand will turn into a frenzy.
Elsewhere in the city, a Contra operative named Alejandro (Juan Javier Cardenas) lost his CIA contact after he overdosed from a booty bump (because Hollywood Hills). Never one to be without a contingency, Alejandro acquainted himself with Teddy McDonald (Carter Hudson), a disgraced operative looking to regain favor in The Agency. Now caught in the middle of a sensitive mission, McDonald has no qualms doing whatever is needed to fulfill the CIA’s partnership with the Contra fighters, and to a lesser extent, provide a better life for his estranged family.
Further down the chain are an ambitious pair of cousins that seek to expand the influence of their family’s cartel. The duo couldn’t be any different personality-wise yet their shared goal of absolute power over Los Angeles is foremost. Without any support from the cartel, Lucia (Emily Rios) and Pedro (Filipe Valle Costa) are working from the ground up and employed a luchador (Sergio Peris-Mencheta) to moonlight as an enforcer and eliminate any obstacles in their ascension, which may eventually mean Claudia, Avi and Franklin could be in their sights.
Undoubtedly, Snowfall’s opener displayed a great deal of promise in its dramatization of one of the more inflammatory events in U.S. history. It provided an impressive amount of flair and panache of “the decade of excess”, while retaining the grittiness of the era. The real question will be how the complex storylines for every lead will successfully intersect and fall flat with the oft-seen tropes in similar crime dramas. If anything can be gathered from the pilot, Snowfall is willing to shine a stark light on the wretchedness inflicted on millions for a scant few to gain leverage over their own agency.