In my previous post I was talking about Bull, which takes a collection of bog standard TV tropes, combines them with a charismatic lead actor and sticks the ingredients together with just about enough competency to make it a viable show to accompany your ironing. Conviction does absolutely the same thing, in fact it’s got even more good elements thanks to more recognisable TV talent in the supporting cast, and yet it fails spectacularly. This is a show that manages to be orders of magnitude worse than the sum of its parts.
Hayley Atwell is a wonderful actress and I adored her in Agent Carter. There’s something about her that feels both original and old school, like she doesn’t even know what the ‘standard’ way to act these roles is and is just bringing an entirely fresh energy to them. This could be a great, chewy role – a woman who’s brash, selfish and knows that she’s the smartest person in the room. But the writers bottled it. Each episode either starts with her being awful and then softening, or does the opposite. She ‘learns’ that other people matter, and then forgets, or starts off trying to be softer and then forgets that. The episodic nature just didn’t work.
The rest of the cast has some good names in it too – Eddie Cahill (CSI: NY’s Detective Flack), Shawn Ashmore (The Following, and the first round of X-Men films) and Emily Kinney (Beth from The Walking Dead). And then the writers strike again and give them nothing to work with but one single defining characteristic each – Cahill is all about politics and presentation, Ashmore is all about the law, and Kinney is all about innocence and see miss-carriages of justice everywhere. There’s also a drug addict former cop, a former convict forensics expert, and an overbearing politician mother. They’re all just plain dull to be honest. The only interesting character was the brother, but maybe that’s because he got such limited screen time that his one note characteristic (he loves his sister) didn’t get old.
Then there’s the plot driver – the “Conviction Integrity Unit” is set up to check cases and make sure the right person is in prison. It’s not a bad idea, but it is stunningly badly actioned. For some reason they only have 1 week to investigate each case. ONE WEEK! I mean, it would take that long to obtain the paperwork, let alone read it all, review all the evidence, track down witnesses, re-process forensics and come up with a legally meaningful conclusion. The ticking clock makes absolutely zero sense and is just an insulting cheap attempt to drum up tension. The fact that they started out with an incredibly obvious re-hash of the Adnan Syed case from the Serial podcast, set the bar for the level of creativity they were going to bring to the cases.
Also stretching the bounds of realism to breaking point is their success rate finding ridiculous coincidences to prove miscarriages of justice. They ducked a couple of times, but broadly the team always came out right, although they had to take a very flexible approach to the law at times which in my book doesn’t make them any different to some of the ‘shoddy’ lawyers they were getting morally indignant about. There are a number of other moral questions raised that are dealt with in offensively simplistic ways, one that jumped out was when someone sleeps with a guy when she knows he has a girlfriend and absolutely no mention is made of that. In fact the other woman is treated like a villain of the piece for absolutely no reason.
So, a poorly developed concept and mediocre characters, with some pretty questionable morals. Why did I watch it so long? Just because I kept hoping it would get better, that Hayley Atwell would get the material she deserved. It didn’t, she didn’t, and I would not be returning for a second season, although it looks extremely unlikely that it will be getting one.