Snowfall review: Getting high on its own supply

The first hit of Snowfall goes straight for the glamour. The comedown can’t be far away

The engaging Damsin Idris as Franklin Saint in  Snowfall

The engaging Damsin Idris as Franklin Saint in Snowfall

 

Opening with a swooping, twirling camera shot through the hazy summer sunshine of South Central LA, over a song that would provide the hook to California Love, at first blush Snowfall (BBC Two, Sun, 9pm) resembles a tribute to the West Coast of John Singleton and Boyz n the Hood. But its nostalgia is aimed more precisely on the early 1980s, the time of Singleton’s adolescence, who is co-creator of the sprawling multi-character drugs drama.

Sprawling multi-character drugs dramas may now be safely defined as an epidemic. Once safely contained in uncontaminated forms such as The Wire or Weeds, the breakout began with Breaking Bad and has since strengthened its grip in ever hardening versions, such as Narcos. Now, it seems, television is hooked, and, to judge from the opening episode of Snowfall, pretty wired.

“Who are you?” asks a hangdog Teddy, with his gun aimed squarely at a stranger. “How do you know Logan Miller? Why does a dead CIA officer have a mountain of cocaine in a hot tub?” Now, these are all good questions. And the answers are as jumpy as he is. 1) His new acquaintance is a Nicaraguan soldier funding the Contras through drug trade. 2) He has been working with Miller, now deceased, who fatally overdosed during an imaginatively wild sex act. And 3) If you know of a more discrete hiding place for a lot of Peruvian marching powder, he’d like to hear it.

The show, you feel, is already getting high on its own supply. When its bright young protagonist Franklin Saint (an engaging Damson Idris), visits a rich friend’s mansion, it is hosting an implausible number of simultaneous porn shoots. When Teddy (Carter Hudson), who agrees to handle the CIA’s end of the deal, considers his product, the camera pulls back slowly to ogle innumerable bales, in tribute to Scarface. A “legitimately insane” Israeli kingpin behaves with the same sensible approach to gun safety as Phil Spector. An influential club owner, cartoonishly violent and seductive, is revealed like a queen on her throne. Drug culture is never shown as some grim, banal business, just a heedless, edgy party.

This, it is almost embarrassingly clear, is the first act of the story: the exhilarating initial contact with narcotics before an inevitable comedown into dependency, paranoia and destruction. It is a sensationalist tale, but a drab formula. It’s only a matter of time before Louis Theroux arrives.

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