Every fall season of television, we get bombarded with a wide variety of new shows with uncertain futures. Sometimes, it feels like a baby that’s sitting in a highchair throwing different kinds of food on a barren wall, just to see what sticks. We go through a barrage of shows with varying levels of quality. Some are original, genre-bending shows that are so good that they often don’t appeal to a wider audience, so they get the axe. Others are gimmicky approaches to tired procedurals that we know all too well, and those shows end up getting picked up for multiple seasons. Somewhere between them are shows like Conviction, that might feel like a tired rehashing of a law procedural, but whose cast hold charm enough for us to mostly look past that.
Coming off an upsetting cancellation of the gone-too-soon ABC show, Agent Carter, we have the ever charming Hayley Atwell in another crime fighting show, but one that is (for now) significantly less physical. A missed opportunity if you ask me, but then again so is having Atwell replacing her naturally charismatic British accent for a plainer American one. In Conviction, she plays the trope-riddled genius slacker, a slight know to Sherlock Holmes with her keen intellect and apparent substance abuse problem. If there wasn’t such a focus on her personal life, past demons and mother issues, she would feel like a passenger in her own show.
As it stands, the rest of her team does all of the heavy-lifting when it comes to the caseload while she offers the occasional observation that always leads to the big breakthrough in the case. While her team follows up on every lead, she is usually making some social appearance for her mother, former first lady of the United States. The entire gimmick of this show is that her team is only allowed to spend 5 days on a case before they move on. This arbitrary time restriction is never fully explained, but it’s the basis of the show so I indulged it for the first couple of episodes. The most frustrating part of the episode is knowing that they would never have to solve the case so close to the 5-day time limit if Atwell’s character was actually more hands on. In fairness, it does fit with her character’s lackadaisical attitude, but you can tell that the correlation happens to be coincidental to the showrunners’ plans.
Show creator Liz Friedlander has a long list of experiences directing television shows. Most of her catalogue consists of sci-fi/supernatural-heavy shows that skew more towards the teen demographic. Not only is this her first time writing for a show, but it is her first law procedural. Her approach is admirable, but very unambitious. The story development, the cases and even a few of the characters are all elements we have seen done to death in similar shows. It would have actually been more narratively interesting if there were some supernatural element incorporated into the show. Another missed opportunity.
Conviction is not as terrible of a show as I have, up until now, led you to believe it is. What it lacks in originality, it more than makes up for in personality. This female-led law drama is very on-brand for ABC’s myriad of other female-led shows on its network, and I love that. There can never be enough female-focused shows that empower women and doesn’t force them to be anything more than sexual objects for men (unless they choose to be). Add on top of that the already diverse cast consisting of several representations of race and sexual orientation and I am in. Not to mention how great the ensemble cast consisting of Daniel Franzese, Merrin Dungey, Manny Montana, Shawn Ashmore and Emily Kinney work together.
The diversity of the show, along with the already impressive Hayley Atwell, give this show a fresh enough feeling to keep me hooked for a few more episodes at least, but probably a full season. It is hard to pass concrete judgement on Conviction without seeing further evidence/episodes. The leads prove interesting, and with some improvement, this show can be more than just a vehicle for Hayley Atwell to remind us how great she is, even with an American accent.