QUANTICO (2015) Should Not Be Considered An Achievement For Priyanka Chopra
So Bollywood superstar, part time singer, and a Chopra with the least family members in the industry, (Not counting Prem) Priyanka Chopra has her own TV Drama this fall on ABC called ‘Quantico‘. The show is (supposedly) a dramatic thriller, with a ‘Fugitive‘ -like concept of an FBI Trainee being falsely accused of a terrorist attack, on the run, while being hunted by her own colleagues and friends.
While the premise isn’t anything new, originality is the least of the issues of this show, that has been best described by as ‘Gossip Girl‘: ‘Homeland‘ Edition. So here are just some general thoughts on ‘Quantico‘ and why the show is undeserving of any praise, despite trying ever so hard to be diverse.
Much like many other ABC shows (‘Lost‘, ‘Flash Forward‘) ‘Quantico‘ also features a narrative format that switches back and forth from past to present. The show begins with a montage of various recruits converging on Quantico, the FBI’s training academy. All the wanna-be Agents have different motivations for being there, and some are obviously hiding something, as made apparent with flash pans and lingering shots of their eyes being all duplicitious. That’s just a big word for being unnecessarily evil looking all the time.
The show then flashes forward to present day, where a bomb has gone off, and Priyanka Chopra’s character, Alex Parrish, is the prime suspect. While the first episode does a pretty decent job of highlighting all the supplementary characters and glimpses into their backstory, the rest of the episode completely falls apart as scenes of the FBI’s response to a terrorist attack seem amateur-ish at best.
Disney’s FBI School Musical!
The show is basically like an inner city high school sports drama by Disney, (which owns ABC coincidentally) where a group of rag tag kids from all walks of life have to overcome their prejudices and egos to become a team! *Cue inspirational musical flourish here*. Episode 3, titled ‘Cover’, drags this point home even further, when an authority figure pits the recruits against each other, with the intention of causing the recruits to… get each others’ backs. That’s street for being loyal. Chopra’s Alex even gives a rousing speech about together-ness and unity, that makes you wanna gag.
The tone of the show is truly one of a soap opera. Given that this is ABC, ‘Quantico’ can also be likened to a law enforcement version of ‘Grey’s Anatomy’, one of their long running successes, that features a similar tone of emotionally melodramatic performances with exaggerated plot points. But as ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and other shows like The CW’s ‘Arrow’ has proven, emotional whininess does not, on its own unravel a show if the approach is interesting and engaging. And this is mostly where ‘Quantico’ loses their shit, causing me to lose mine.
The Teachers (FBI)
A show based on the inner workings of the FBI, needs to depict the subject matter of its premise, in a serious manner, draped in official demeanour and be, in the least, somewhat professional of an organization for everything else to make sense. For the audience to believe that these characters are working so hard to be Agents of said oranization, is hinged on this one perception of the FBI.
The difficulty of being selected as an FBI Agent makes the antagonist, whoever it is revealed to be, that much more cunning and dangerous, as they infiltrated one of the most elite law enforcement organizations in the world. However, the pilot alone undermines the FBI’s effecive-ness as they fail to uncover one trainee’s very obvious past, which results in his suicide.
The Students (Recruits)
Then we’ve got the twins. A pair of twin Muslim women, pretending to be one person, are basically pulling off ‘The Parent Trap’. But instead of witless elementary school teachers, and innocent parents, they’re doing this with instructors of the FBI, whose basic job pre-requisite is to be aware of suspicious behaviour. The very fact that there is 1 person, completely unaccounted for, present in those facilities 24 hours a day, is a serious breach of security and a total exposure of the lack of qualifications of any law enforcement Agent present. Not to mention basic common sense: double showers, bathroom visits, one of them must always be dirty, starving or needing to pee SO bad!
I guess the lack of professionalism from the FBI Instructors would be more serious of an issue if these other instructors even existed, as we never see any other FBI instructor except Liam (Josh Hopkins) & the director Miranda (Aunjanue Ellis). Speaking of whom…
Teachers Need Subplots Too!
The interactions between these, apparently, only two instructors in the entire FBI, are forced and cheesy at best. With awkward references to their past, relationships and other things meant to be character development, the characters of Liam & Miranda feel more like inept guidance counsellors instead of FBI Agents qualified enough to train future FBI Agents. It’s laughable really.
Given the new revelation that Miranda’s son was involved in a would-be school shooting attack, which led him to be incarcerated in Juvenile detention, it begs the question how Miranda even has the job she does, if someone so close to her was so directly linked with another attack, years before the events of the show. Why is she not the prime suspect, when this attack happens?!
Piggy Chops Herself
Priyanka Chopra honestly isn’t all bad in this show. However, her reaction of getting arrested and accused of being a terrorist, is unbecoming an FBI Agent, and more how she would react in a Bollywood movie after separating from her lover in sad song sung by Himesh Reshammiya.
‘Quantico’ is being praised for being a very diverse show with a Bollywood actress from India in a leading role. It’s unprecedented for Bollywood talent to gain such importance and be on the forefront of American prime time television in a leading role. That is most definitely a good thing when it comes to the exposure of South Asian talent (from South Asia) on an international scale. Not to mention amazing for Priyanka Chopra to be getting this kind of fame and attention in Hollywood.
However, being the lead in a show that is unintelligent, devoid of any real story and mediocre at best, is not at all an accomplishment to be proud of. Actually, if you think about it, it’s a little undermining to Chopra’s established abilities and status as an actress, that we as an audience are wow’d simply with her involvement, regardless of how the project itself performs from a qualitative standpoint.
Chopra’s performances in Bollywood movies like ‘7 Khoon Maaf’ and ‘Barfi!’ solidify her as one of the more hefty leading women in that industry. And while it’s very progressive for her to be ‘making it’ in Hollywood TV, blurring the lines of what ethnic actors can do, it feels a little exploitative to me. I’ll explain why.
The Conspiracy Theory
Let’s talk numbers for a while, but briefly, as my math is terrible. ‘Quantico‘ has had the highest ratings for ABC in the last 10 years for a show in that slot. That is an impressive feat. Maybe not as impressive if the show was put on a weekday and pitted against other prime time heavyweights, but impressive nonetheless. But given the obvious tone of the show, I wonder who this show is aimed at.
If compared in terms of content, a better comparison would be Showtime’s ‘Homeland‘, which is able to do the plot device of a terrorist inside of the US, in a manner that network TV is limited and restricted by. So why is ‘Quantico‘ so successful? Is it possibly because of that large Bollywood demographic, (it would be naive to think ABC is unaware of) who otherwise don’t watch much Hollywood TV, but are tuning in to ‘Quantico‘ every week to see their favourite Bollywood actress ‘make it’ on Hollywood Television?
Not trying to diminish ‘Quantico’s or Priyanka Chopra’s success in anyway. But it does beg the question: how does a show that is more about emotional drama and superflous relationships, marketed as an action thriller, do so well, when other prime time shows, some with massive geek following (‘Constantine‘ on NBC) get cancelled due to low ratings?
Coming off of my paranoid rant, let’s make somethings very clear: Priyanka Chopra in Hollywood is a big deal, and she is quite possibly the best thing in ‘Quantico’. But, calling it a cultural achievement of some sort that is breaking new ground, undermines the struggles of South Asian-American actors who are succeeding in Hollywood Television. Actors like Aziz Ansari (‘Master Of None’) and Mindy Kaling (‘The Mindy Project‘) have opened doors, both across ethnic and gender lines, for others to follow in their footsteps, years before Priyanka Chopra was even on Hollywood’s radar. For Priyanka Chopra’s success to overshadow theirs and being heralded as groundbreaking, is unfair, and inaccurate. Especially if the reason behind her casting is due to the built-in Bollywood audience numbering in the millions that comes with her.
If that is the case, then I’d rather applaud the accomplishments of other Bollywood actors/actresses who appeared as in Hollywood TV shows that were actually critically acclaimed; such as Nimrat Kaur, (‘Homeland’) Anupam Kher & Purab Kohli, (‘Sense8‘) Anil Kapoor, (‘24‘) and Kirron Kher, (‘ER‘).
If representation is such a big deal for South Asians within Hollywood, then we should be giving attention where it’s due and supporting South Asian artists who are working their way up within Hollywood, instead of blowing out of proportion an actress who has already made it on the world stage, and for whom ‘Quantico‘s success is based on her previously established stardom.