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Sometimes when it comes to new series, it’s more important for the show be on-brand for its network than for it to be a great show. CBS’s Limitless, for example, settles in easily to its procedural format, which is exactly the kind of thing that CBS thrives on. Similarly, Quantico, though airing on Sundays, fits in perfectly with ABC’s Thursday series, which have lead to “Grey’s Academy” and “How to Get Away with Terror” headlines. On the show, attractive men and women work together, fight together, and sleep together at the FBI academy, each harboring a host of increasingly twisted secrets that culminate (for now) in the execution of a horrific terrorist plot in New York City.
Quantico stars the Bollywood actress and singer Priyanka Chopra as Alex Parrish, our guide into this world of FBI recruits. She and her fellow smart, attractive FBI freshmen from across the country — played by Jake McLaughlin, Yasmine Al Masri, Johanna Braddy, Tate Ellington and Graham Rogers — go through training and try to guess each other’s secrets, which are augmented by viewers getting to flash forward to the aftermath of a bomb attack, with only Alex left in the rubble. Like How to Get Away with Murder, the show skips back and forth in time, revealing and obfuscating elements of the crime and the personal lives of the core group in order to draw out the tension and maximize the twists. And for the most part, it works.
Though it’s not a Shondaland series (it’s created by former Gossip Girl writer and executive producer Joshua Safran), it certainly feels like one, appearing like it might strike a balance between How to Get Away with Murder’s unabashed chaos and Grey’s Anatomy’s workplace soap (that show also features huge disasters every so often to keep emotions high). The pilot sets up a series’ worth of twists and turns, and is extremely efficient with its exposition and making its cast distinct even outside of their regional stereotypes (Utah, Georgia, Ohio, D.C.), as each in turn reveal dualistic natures. It’s both a “whodunnit?” and a traditional character drama, but those elements are used to their maximum effect to make Quantico an easy and enjoyable watch.
But, the last few minutes of Quantico’s pilot raise questions about the series’ devotion to plot twists that could careen too far into that aforementioned chaos. It’s something that has held back Fox’s Empire (its style over substance), but Quantico can’t afford to go anywhere near Empire’s plot-burning speed, because it doesn’t have that show’s over-the-top tone and charisma. Because of the the nature of its terror focus, Quantico must find a balance between its serious platform and its soapiest elements. If Showtime’s Homeland has failed in the past because it’s tried to infuse soapy drama into its thriller aspect, Quantico could suffer a similar fate if it tries the reverse.
One of Quantico’s best aspects, though, is the sense of camaraderie and chemistry that comes together quickly and easily among the cast, with Chopra as a magnetic yet unassuming lead. And while the show plays up the time-jump aspects and secrets-upon-secrets, the best part of the pilot is the “first day of school” vibe among the recruits, and the early days of their training. Though the pilot zooms past much of that to get to the action that will hook more viewers, the show is at its strongest when its introducing these new relationships, and playing with those early dynamics that revolve around truth versus projection.
Ultimately, Quantico may be the most fully-formed and diverting of the the fall pilots so far, and the one most likely to quickly find an audience. Whether it can hold on is another question, and just one of the infinite questions the show surely hopes it never has to stop solving.
Rating: ★★★★ Very good — A strong start
Chance of Series Survival: Moderate
Quantico premieres Sunday, September 27th at 10 p.m. on ABC