The best television procedural dramas, whether police, legal, or medical dramas are those going beyond the formula, presenting interesting characters that draw you in. That possess elements of serial drama, with ongoing stories and conflicts that hang on the formula, but steer away from becoming formulaic. ABC’s new series, Conviction, debuting October 3, presents some real possibilities for reaching beyond its procedural roots for a story about politics, corruption, and family–and an important social-political issue.
Centering on a newly established elite unit of the New York District Attorney’s office set up overturn the murder cases of the wrongly convicted, viewers can expect to watch a new case unfold each week. The unit has only five days to investigate and determine if the original conviction was problematic, whether by error or intent.
But Conviction has the potential to be much more than that. Bad murder convictions are a real hot-button issue. Several states with death penalty laws have halted executions because too many convicted murders (even one is too many by some standards) are found too late to be the wrong guy. And execution becomes, therefore, murder. Conviction provides a popular medium to start a conversation if given a chance–and if they want to go there.
It’s hard to tell from one episode, but I have to say that although it took me awhile to get drawn into the story (perhaps the first act or so), it was well worth the effort. The main character, Hayes Morrison (Hayley Atwell, Marvel’s Agent Carter) is revealed slowly. A brilliant legal mind–a defense attorney, turned law professor, she makes her entrance behind bars, jailed for cocaine possession. Freed by a powerful guy–New York’s District Attorney Conner Wallace, played by CSI: NY‘s Eddie Cahill, it’s clear the two have a past.
My gold standard for procedural drama is House, M.D., the long-running FOX series starring Hugh Laurie. From the first episode of that medical procedural, we are drawn into the story of Gregory House. I found the show so intriguing that I wrote an entire book about the series. It went way beyond the procedural to tackle interesting ethical and moral issues as a drug-addicted, brilliant diagnostician cured the medical cases no one else could.
The reason I bring up House, is because Conviction has a very strong connection to the long-running medical series in the guise of executive producer Liz Friedman, who was a producer-writer on House for nearly all its run, and was responsible for many of the series most emotional explorations of the show’s lead character. Like Gregory House, Hayes Morrison is a pretty screwed up person. But like House, beneath callous exterior beats a human heart.
By the end of the pilot episode, I was surprised to find tears in my eyes. Yeah, I knew how the case was going to end, but a great central performance by Atwell got to me in the end. I’m looking forward to Conviction, and I’ve put it on my watch list for the fall, and look forward to seeing the cases grow more complex and the overall series narrative to weave in more and more threads to carry it beyond the formulaic.
Conviction debuts Monday, October 3, 10:00 p.m. ET. The series is created by writer Liz Friedman and director Liz Friedlander. Executive producers are Mark Gordon (Criminal Minds), Liz Friedman (House), Liz Friedlander (Stalker) and Nicholas Pepper (Criminal Minds).