Conviction follows the rebellious daughter of a former US president who is blackmailed into heading up the Conviction Integrity Unit, a team that investigate cases where people may have been wrongly convicted.
Warning, there are spoilers ahead.
With a highly interesting concept and superstar Hayley Atwell as the lead, Conviction looked to be a winner for ABC. The promo shown back at Upfronts week amped up the hype and placated some very saddened Agent Carter fans. However, the loyal fanbase of Agent Carter seem to be both a blessing and curse for Conviction. On the one hand, they want to see Atwell do well and will certainly boost ratings. On the other, they want her to be in a high quality show equally good as Agent Carter and will be vocal if they feel it is not. This means that Conviction is under a lot of scrutiny. Comparisons will inevitably be made and if the show isn’t up to scratch then it’s in for some heavy criticisms. So how does it measure up?
One thing that hasn’t changed is how brilliant Hayley Atwell is. Her character, Hayes, should be unlikeable. She’s a woman who’s been afforded incredible privilege and she seems to be wasting it. However, Atwell plays her with such enthusiasm and depth that you can’t help but root for her. The scene between her and her mother Harper was particularly indicative of this. Just when you feel like you’ve figured Hayes out she breaks down in tears as Harper delivers some tough love. This should be a key relationship as the series progresses and I’d like to see some time invested in it in upcoming episodes. Hayes’ other main relationship is with DA Conner Wallace, played by the very charismatic Eddie Cahill. They have tons of chemistry and there were of course some predictably tense scenes between the two. My only issue with Wallace is whether he’s meant to serve as a protagonist or antagonist. It seems to flip flop between the two in the pilot. This can be made clearer by giving some more screen time to Cahill, who was surprisingly underused in the pilot, and focusing on character development.
Character development for secondary cast is usually something that is lacking in pilots but Conviction did a great job with the exception of Wallace and Sam Spencer, played by Shawn Ashmore. Former cop Maxine Bohen, played by Merrin Dungey. was quickly established as the tough, no-nonsense badass of the group. Her opening line “I didn’t vote for your father” told us a lot in 6 words and the writers deserve a lot of credit for this one. It was very interesting to see her struggle with going against the police, and I hope and expect that will turn into a long running arc for her. Forensic expert Frankie Cruz’s (played by Manny Montana) prison past was a heavy focus of the episode and it served as a really great way to introduce us to his character. Montana does a fantastic job in the role and as a result both his and his character’s passion shines through. The hint at a romantic relationship between him and an inmate at the end of the episode was brilliant and sets up a potentially great storyline for him. The real standout though was Emily Kinney who plays bright eyed Tess Larson. Kinney seemed to steal a lot of scenes with ease and Tess soon became my favourite character. I’d say her and Frankie are definitely the most likeable of the team. However, Tess’s interesting history definitely gave her an edge and I’m excited to see how that plays out. As I mentioned previously, Shawn Ashmore wasn’t really given that much opportunity to shine in the pilot but considering how much we saw of other characters, I’m not surprised. Something had to give. Ashmore is a talented guy though, as we saw in The Following, so here’s hoping we get more of him in future episodes.
Perhaps the reason we got to see so much character backstory was because of how well the case linked to everyone’s lives. Maxine because of her police background, Frankie because of his prison experience and Tess because of her past as an eyewitness. The writers chose and executed this case really well, and despite it not being the most interesting, it was perfect for the pilot.
Despite the brilliant characters, Conviction wasn’t without its teething problems. It’s biggest issue in the pilot seemed to be deciding what type of show it is. Is it a glossy legal soap with fun clichés and unrealistic yet entertaining storylines (see: coming up with a new murder suspect and evidence to put him in jail all in one day)? Or is it a dark drama with multi-faceted characters and touching scenes (see: the relationship between Hayes and her mother)? There’s nothing wrong with being the first. Fellow ABC show Notorious has fully embraced its sexy soapy nature and it seems to be working. However, it seems as if Conviction wants to be the second which is fine but they need to show us that. In the pilot for every scene where Hayley Atwell brilliantly acted her socks off there was another one with heavily expositional and cheesy dialogue, which was honestly quite frustrating. Of course, Conviction could be trying to give us a mix of both; a glossy dark soap? And that could work. How to Get Away With Murder is proof of that. But it’s a difficult task and one that didn’t fully pay off in the pilot. It’s not all bad news though. The show did show real promise. If the scripts are tightened up, Conviction has the potential to give us some very meaningful and entertaining stories.
So the question remains, is Conviction a good replacement for Agent Carter? It’s a difficult question to answer and maybe one that we shouldn’t be asking at all. The truth is the two shows are very different. Yes, Hayley Atwell plays a strong female character incredibly well, but that’s where the similarities end. Conviction should and does stand on its own. And it does so as an engaging and exciting new show.
Pilot Rating – 3.5/5