Review: Quantico 1×1 (US: ABC; UK: Alibi)

How to get away with terrorism

In the US: Sundays, 10/9c, ABC
In the UK: Acquired by Alibi

The TV business can be risky, particularly the US broadcast TV business where a show can be cancelled after just a few episodes and lose millions of dollars in the process.

As a result, broadcast networks tend to want to play safe. If they find something that does well in the ratings, something that usually hasn’t strayed too far from the previous year’s not especially adventurous offerings, they’ll try to create something relatively similar the next year to capitalise upon it.

This isn’t a good idea, but if you’re a TV exec, you’re not likely to lose your job over it, since you can always say: “It was a safe bet. Hell, the last one did well and this was pretty similar. Who could have predicted it would tank?”

Last year’s “something quite close to lots of things you’ve already seen but which is a bit different” on ABC was How To Get Away With Murder, which was basically a remake of the 1970s law school show Paper Chase except with a more diverse cast and added murder. That was popular enough that it got renewed by the network. That, of course, means that this year we need something that’s quite close to How To Get Away With Murder but which is a bit different.

The setting and general structure of How To Get Away With Murder is this: a team of diverse recruits to a prestigious school, all competing with one another to be the best, with the action running in two timelines, one before, one after a crime. What Quantico stupidly does is think you can transfer that from a law school to Quantico and have more or less the same kinds of people and principles. 

You’ll probably have heard of Quantico: it trains the FBI, the DEA and the Marines. When you hear the name ‘Quantico’, you probably think of something like this:

What you probably don’t think of is Muslims in hijab climbing assault courses; people with lots of deep, dark, borderline felony secrets; mean girls picking on their teachers for not being sexy and marriagable enough; and an Indian superstar trying to make it big in the US as an FBI recruit accused of committing a 9/11-level atrocity and trying to prove it was actually one of her classmates.

Here’s a trailer. Be warned – the show’s single redeeming feature, Dougray Scott, has been replaced by Josh Hopkins from Cougar Town

A diverse group of recruits has arrived at the FBI Quantico Base for training. They are the best, the brightest and the most vetted, so it seems impossible that one of them is suspected of masterminding the biggest attack on New York City since 9/11.

Quantico stars Priyanka Chopra as Alex, Jake McLaughlin as Ryan, Aunjanue Ellis as Miranda, Yasmine Al Massri as Nimah, Johanna Braddy as Shelby, Tate Ellington as Simon and Graham Rogers as Caleb.

ABC’s new drama Quantico was written by Josh Safran. Executive producers are Josh Safran, Mark Gordon and Nick Pepper. Quantico is produced by ABC Studios.

Is it any good?
If you like a pretty inept soap opera or are a big fan of Priyanka Chopra, this could be the show for you. If you like some level of plausibility and intelligence to your action drama/procedural, give Quantico a wide berth.

The show is 50% soap, 50% mystery, although a lot of the mystery is “why did they think this was a good idea?” Here, you know that Priyanka Chopra isn’t guilty. You don’t know why the FBI thought that the girl who shot her own father and who has spent the past 10 years in Mumbai would be a good recruit, but judging by the rest of her class, she’s probably the most secure prospect of the lot of them.

The rest of the mystery is who commits this 9-11 terrorist act. Is it Jake McLaughlin (Believe), the marine she accidentally shags on the way to Quantico and turns out to be a fellow classmate? Is it Yasmine Al Massri, the girl who mysteriously wears her hijab on the left some days, the right other days? Is it Josh Hopkins, the washed out instructor given a second chance?

If you didn’t care about who did the murder in How To Get Away With Murder, you’ll care precisely the same amount here.

The problems with the show are threefold. First, there’s the epic level of implausibility and lack of an understanding of even basic FBI procedure. What’s that? You’ve just caught a top terrorist? Better have her wandering around chatting for a year or so, then, hadn’t you? And let’s not get started on the fact that (spoiler alert) Massri is playing twin sisters who swap places every so often yet presumably manage to get onto and off campus with just the one security pass just fine.

Second, there’s the acting. It’s just terrible. Universally terrible, particularly Hopkins, who brings to the role of tough FBI instructor exactly the same gravitas as the guy who looks after the security at that old laundromat around the corner from you.

The third is that this is the Priyanka Chopra show. As well as the plot hoops necessary for the show’s writer (Josh Safran of Gossip Girl and Smash, but absolutely no procedurals) to get her into the show, virtually everything revolves around her, with almost no thought to create well fleshed out characters. Instead, they just have awesome-offs (“I can speak 17 different languages and play the flute with my elbow”, “Well I was the youngest professional boules champion in the Tri-state area’s history and can shoot a gnat from a mile away with a fairground rifle that’s had the sights removed and replaced with frozen yak’s yoghurt”, “Well…”)

If you’re going to have soap, you need some soap, not just pale shadows of the same diversity templates that How To Get Away With Murder passed down to you. And since everything’s about setting Chopra up for a series in which she’s on the run, trying to remember who was the shiftiest dick in her class three months previously, that doesn’t happen.

I don’t want to be negative. I always try to find something positive in a show. But at every level, this is inept, insultingly bad and at times in appallingly bad taste. If I were in the FBI, I’d want to sue, just for depicting the organisation as being as secure as a string of sausages holding up the Statue of Liberty.

I doubt anyone will be fired because of it, though.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

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