Damien Love’s TV high­lights plus seven-day pro­gramme guide

HIGH­LIGHT OF THE WEEK

Sunday Herald Life - - CONTENTS -

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.

Pho­to­graph: Christo­pher Turner

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