Damien Love’s TV highlights plus seven-day programme guide
HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK
Sunday Snowfall 10pm, BBC Two
AQUARTER of a century on from his directing debut, John Singleton is still most associated with that first film, Boyz N The Hood. Released in 1991, when he was only 23, the movie drew on his experiences and observations growing up and making choices as a black teenager in South Central Los Angeles in the 1980s, as the community fell prey to spiralling poverty exacerbated by an epidemic of crack cocaine and worsening drug-related gang violence. A message movie in the old tradition, it was a little simplified, a little preachy, but it powered through thanks to a sense of place, genuine anger, and an excellent cast rising to the challenge. From its first frame, Singleton’s eleven-part series Snowfall offers itself as a more ambitious thematic prequel to his breakthrough movie. Once again, we are thrown into a densely felt South Central LA, but this time we land 10 years earlier. Where the neighbourhood in Boyz N The Hood had the tension of a war zone, Snowfall’s opening scene is a glimpse of a street-level paradise about to be lost. It’s the hot summer of 1983, and as sunlight comes slanting through the palm trees, little kids rush to meet the ice cream van
on their neat little avenue. The whole world seems to vibrate in clean pastel colours. There’s not a lot of money in these houses, for sure. But neither are there bars on all the windows. Not yet.
The tale the series sets out to tell, of course, is how things went bad, degenerating into the devastated community of a decade later – the story of how crack came to the streets. Snowfall charts the drug’s arrival across three initially unconnected plots. One involves Gustavo ‘El Oso’ Zapata (Sergio Peris-Mencheta), a bruised, aging, Mexican wrestler, on the verge of a new career as a strongarm for Lucia (Emily Rios), daughter of a cartel family with plans of her own.
Another, more complex – and rooted in rumours surrounding the Reagan administration’s alleged complicity in drug trafficking – concerns a bored and lowly young CIA operative, Teddy (Carter Hudson), drawn into an off-book operation involving selling cocaine in LA to fund the rightwing Contra rebels’ attempts to overthrow Nicaragua’s Sandinista government.
The central strand, meanwhile, is simpler, yet emotionally more complicated, following a kid from that street we glimpsed in the opening scene. He’s Franklin Saint (Damson Idris), a decent, whipsmart 19-year-old who, weighing up his options, is about to make the leap from peddling grass to rich white kids, to getting involved in the cocaine game.
Running the three storylines concurrently, the series seeks to set Franklin’s odyssey to the dark side against the wider context of his times, though, from the first episodes, it’s hard to judge how successful that will be. Highly detailed, and unfolding at a slow burn, all the individual plots are intriguing, but Franklin’s is the most compelling, partly because it’s where Singleton seems most invested, and partly because, in Idris, he has a star in the making: his beguiling, worrying performance is the stuff careers are built on.
With its careful period design, prowling camerawork and constant killer soundtrack, meanwhile, Snowfall has the slick, highly addictive palette of a Grand Theft Auto game. The days are all saturated, flaring candy colours, the nights dark blue and splashed with neon and danger. Whether all the pieces will come together as they did in a series like The Wire – an obvious inspiration – remains to be seen. But there’s every reason for sticking around.