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It’s fun: ABC’s ‘Quantico’

| Thursday, October 1, 2015

it's fun colorSusan Zhu | The Observer

I’m a TV snob. Ask me if I have a favorite show and I’m wont to name a few perennial Emmy winners. “30 Rock.” “Mad Men.” “The Sopranos.” I may reference a more obscure program like “The Wire,” or its even still more obscure cousin, “Treme.” (That’s “Treh-MAY for the uninitiated.) I am, after all, a television studies major, so it’s necessary to keep up appearances. But what about behind closed doors? What about those lazy weekend nights that call for pizza, Netflix and actually chilling? When the chips are down and pure escapist — but far from mindless — entertainment is what I crave, I often find myself turning to Shonda Rhimes’s canonical “Grey’s Anatomy.”

Two minutes into the “Grey’s Anatomy” pilot the opening chords of Rilo Kiley’s “Portions for Foxes” set the series’ tone — “Grey’s” is effortlessly enjoyable. It balances dramatic thrill with breezy amusement by juxtaposing intense operating room scenes and (gloriously) inappropriate flirtation. (Sometimes the doctors even flirt in the O.R.! I knew there was a reason I’m pre-med!)

A similar brand of fun seems to be imbedded in “Quantico’s” DNA. ABC’s new series — which premiered last Sunday at 10 p.m. — was created by Joshua Safran, who is clearly a Shonda Rhimes acolyte. The opening minutes of the pilot episode introduce an ethnically and socioeconomically diverse ensemble cast, set to the steady beat of an indie-pop song I’m not cool enough to know. Our protagonist, Alex, is of Indian descent, and seems to have kept her mother in the dark regarding her acceptance to the FBI Academy at Quantico. We see a blonde woman clutching a mysterious piece of metal as she departs for Quantico from her southern estate. A Muslim woman wins our sympathy when she is cruelly discriminated against by the owner of a gas station, then sparks our fascination when she inexplicably ditches her car for a new one. A young Mormon man returns from his mission, only to depart on an even greater one as an FBI trainee. And finally, a gay man recruits a stranger to kiss for the sake of a picture. Despite being caricatures, each of these people has a story, and one of “Quantico’s” victories is how it manages to convince the viewer that these characters are interesting enough to keep watching after the show’s first five minutes.

Of course, “Quantico” is more than just a retread of “Grey’s Anatomy” set in the high-pressure world of the FBI Academy. In an age where network dramas are often maligned in comparison to their cable counterparts, bearing resemblance to the hit network show of yesteryear isn’t enough to survive. Fortunately, “Quantico” realizes this, and confines the soapy fun of the FBI Academy scenes to flashbacks, lifting their frame story from one of my other favorite shows: “24.”

A bomb has just leveled Grand Central Terminal, and the FBI suspect one of their new recruits is responsible. Alex has miraculously survived the blast, and because she has intimate knowledge of her academy classmates, it’s up to her to find the terrorist before he or she can strike again. Where “Grey’s” used the O.R. to generate tension, “Quantico” uses the ongoing hunt for the terrorist. Since the two ends of the story are temporally separated, “Quantico” can’t shift tones as nimbly as “Grey’s” can, though it is effective in its own right.

In this story everyone is a suspect, therefore Alex must inform the FBI (and us!) of all the juicy details from her stint at Quantico. (Who knows, a particularly steamy affair could be the clue that unlocks the whole case!) Also, because half of the show is set in the past, the writers use the present tense scenes to refer to various interpersonal conflicts that the audience hasn’t witnessed yet. As a sort of built-in teaser, it’s not the subtlest technique; but after finding myself speculating about the events that occurred between the two timeframes, I realized it is an effective one.

“Quantico” isn’t “Mad Men” or “30 Rock” or “The Sopranos.” Unlike those shows, I don’t think I will ever watch an episode of “Quantico” more than once. But that’s okay, because “Quantico” is good fun! If you’re searching for an hour-a-week escape from the stress of school or work, look no further.

“Quantico” airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on ABC.

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