Aunjanue Ellis and Courtney B. Vance in AMC drama – The Hollywood Reporter

When Peter Moffat’s Showtime drama Your Honor premiering in December 2020, I explained how the Bryan Cranston vehicle – extensively promoted as a limited series and then renewed – was designed to help you play Peak TV bingo.

This show was a watchable mix of provocative ideas, one semi-sharp setting and one narrative trope after another that felt lifted from one prestige TV show after another, layered on top of each other so that moral obscurity and narrative cacophony went hand in hand. -hand.

61st street

The essential

Vance and Ellis valiantly fight Peak TV’s corruption and clichés.

Broadcasting date : 10 p.m. Sunday, April 10 (AMC)

Cast: Courtney B. Vance, Aunjanue Ellis, Mark O’Brien, Holt McCallany, Tosin Cole, Andrene Ward-Hammond and Bentley Green

Creator: Pierre Moffat

Prepare to sweep your Peak TV bingo card because Moffat is back with 61st streeta new AMC drama that’s a watchable mix of provocative ideas, semi-sharp setting, and one narrative trope after another that feels lifted from one prestige TV show after another, layered one on top of the other. another so that moral obscurity and narrative cacophony go hand in hand.

If you saw Your Honor and The night of (based on Moffat criminal justice) or seven seconds (not affiliated with Moffat in any way) or The Chievery beat in 61st street will probably feel familiar. But you’ve never seen them with Courtney B. Vance and Aunjanue Ellis front and center. Unless you looked Lovecraft Country, I want to say. It was better and more adventurous than it is, at least through the six out of eight total episodes sent to critics.

Vance plays Franklin — as Aretha, not Benjamin, he points out — Roberts, a public defender from South Side Chicago. Franklin is weary as he nears the end of a frustrating career battling Chicago’s criminal justice system.

Franklin is briefly invigorated by the case of Moses Johnson (Tosin Cole), a local high school track star headed for a college scholarship when caught up in a sleazy drug deal, makes the dubious decision to step aside. flee and a policeman ends up dying. . Moses is up against a corrupt Chicago police department, including Holt McCallany’s menacing Lt. Brannigan – intensely played, but basically Vic Mackey without any nuance – and the late officer’s more confrontational partner Mike Logan (a Mark O’ Brien actually tormented).

At the same time, Franklin’s wife, Martha (Ellis), is running for an elected office that the series can’t quite place meaningfully on the Chicago landscape under a platform dominated by calls for removal. police funds. Martha is annoyed by Franklin’s decision to go ahead with this case, because he promised it would be his chance to follow his dreams, because he has serious health issues, and because their son David ( Jarell Maximillian Sullivan) is on the autism spectrum and needs more attention than either can provide.

Franklin, in particular, is struggling with at least two or three more half-developed subplots than 61st street can handle; Moffat’s increasingly familiar approach is to take scenarios that could have been covered in just 42 minutes Law and order episode and turn them into limited-time series. Sullivan, for example, is very good, but whenever the show attempts to build suspense through the character’s difficult navigation of the world, the result falls somewhere between “underdeveloped” and “gratuitous emotional manipulator.”

The main crime/case is absolutely enough to fill a series on its own. Moses, solidly played by British actor Cole, is another Moffat protagonist who isn’t exactly innocent, but is still being trapped by an unbalanced system. The dilemmas of his situation and Franklin’s response to it would always be familiar – Moffat is very intrigued by the ramifications of manslaughter and the gap between legal culpability and moral culpability – but powerful.

At every turn, however, Moffat gilds the lily with complications and secondary characters that seem better designed for extra spectacle. This is especially true in the ongoing narrative threads related to the clash between fictional Chicago gangs, disturbing prison coping strategies, and shady police practices. Also, as was the case in Your Honor, 61st street has a disturbing tendency to get lost in images of almost exclusively black crime, without always questioning the meaning of these images and where they come from (although an Evil White Reporter is perhaps the slimmest character and the most ridiculous of the series).

Cutting down any of these stories – which probably count as quinary or senary threads at most – would have opened the door to making the show’s most distinctive elements feel like something bigger than the end of the ages. lips.

Shot in Chicago and benefiting hugely from initial director Marta Cunningham’s documentary chops, 61st street looks decent (although some of the cinematography choices, weird filters and so on are baffling). It doesn’t sound right. Specific references to real-life Chicago, like a single mention of Laquan McDonald’s shooting, are so rare they border on exploitation. There’s no sentiment for Chicago’s unique political intricacies, so the subplot is reduced to Martha giving a few progressive speeches, which are only believable because Ellis is such a fiery performer.

Shows like The Chi and South side and, going back a decade, The Chicago Code have raised the bar for authenticity. 61st street needed a “Chicago” pass for every script so it wasn’t just “Oh and now we’re doing an architectural boat tour.”

They could probably be transplanted to any city in the country, but conversations 61st street wants to pivot around valid questions, whether they concern the failures of community policing or the exhausting fatigue of life as a public defender. Watching actors as gifted as Vance, who plays a flashy, silver-tongued lawyer as well as all the actors we have, and Ellis ponder these headline-grabbing topics will never be boring. And, as I said in my review of Your Honor, some people really enjoy playing bingo. I just need Moffat to make the game a little harder.

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