Quantico is an overstuffed TV show, mostly getting publicity because of Bollywood diva Priyanka Chopra
Before it aired, the only thing that set Quantico — a mystery-thriller about a bunch of FBI recruits — apart from all the other new TV shows this season was the presence of Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra. The publicity for the show made it seem like a mixture of interpersonal drama Grey’s Anatomy and the crazy high jinks of the Shonda Rhimes-backed show How to Get Away with Murder. In other words, the show seemed the epitome of “been there, seen that” but of course that was overshadowed by the excitement of seeing one of our own up there, starring with goras. After watching the first three episodes, however, it is pretty clear that Chopra is by far the best thing about the show, which is both a compliment to her as well as a significant weakness of the show itself.
Quantico revolves around a new class of trainees who have just been recruited into the FBI academy at Quantico. There is Alex Parrish (Priyanka Chopra), the steely and determined character at the centre of the plot, and joining her are scruffy military vet Jake McLaughlin (Ryan Booth), rich Southern debutante Johanna Braddy (Shelby Wyatt) and the mysterious and aloof devout Muslim Yasmine Elmasri (Nimah Anwar), among others. The show’s narrative runs on two timelines — in the present day, a terrorist attack on New York’s Grand Central Terminal has just occurred, with Parrish as the prime suspect, and in order to solve the mystery of who among the FBI recruits was involved in the attack, there are flashbacks to Parrish and her colleagues’ first year at Quantico.
With so much going on, Quantico is nothing if not fast-paced and action-packed. There are plot twists and revelations galore, and even though a lot of it feels a little too paint-by-the-numbers (as backstory, Parrish’s abusive father is revealed to also have been an FBI agent), it’s still entertaining to watch. Furthermore, Chopra’s character is pretty badass — she is confident, smart, open about her sexuality and comfortable with who she is — and is therefore very easy to root for. There is potential for other characters to also embody cultural stereotypes and then dismantle them from inside. I am thinking specifically of Anwar, who is one of the few devout Muslims on American television today. Couple that with the fact that Chopra is shown as an Indian American which gives the show additional points for diverse representation.
However, Quantico has considerable flaws. The show struggles to juggle with multiple storylines at once — there are so many revelations and plot twists that all of them quickly lose their impact and begin to feel inconsequential. Also, the show’s premise is predicated on the idea that all the recruits are keeping secrets from each other and from the FBI. Aside from this making, the FBI seems really silly (How did any of these people get in the academy in the first place, given the rigorous recruitment process?) This idea will only work if the audience has a sense of these characters’ motivations. If the audience doesn’t know the characters, it is hard to invest in figuring out why they might be hiding things from each other. Three episodes in, only Chopra’s character is fully fleshed out, and although she does a great job, she cannot be expected to carry the whole show, especially one with so many other players.
Quantico isn’t aiming to be a hard-hitting, nuanced treatise on terrorism in the contemporary landscape. Rather, it is meant to be, foremost, entertaining and exciting. Unfortunately, at this point, it isn’t managing to achieve that aim either. It has the potential, but it needs to streamline its multitude of storylines and put in some real character work for the audience to remain engaged.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, October 25th, 2015.