The ABC television network is doing quite well in the ratings game this fall, especially thanks to the return of one of its big hits from last season: Shonda Rhimes’s How to Get Away With Murder, starring Viola Davis as lawyer Annalise Keating. But adding to ABC’s hype is its new fall sensation, Quantico, starring India’s biggest star (formerly unknown in America), Priyanka Chopra, as Alex Parrish.
Both shows are similar: they both start with a big mystery, an event they have to analyze and solve in flashbacks, presumably by the end of the season. The action for both takes place in multiple timelines, examining multiple cases at once, and they both have that swooshing flash of images to establish scene and build excitement. Wonderfully, they’re also both big, fairly diverse ensemble shows, with a strong woman of color in the lead.
I’ve been watching HTGAWM since the beginning, mostly to keep up with what people are talking about (and for Matt McGorry’s Asher, especially now that the actor is sadly no longer on Orange is the New Black). But I have to confess: I don’t fully understand why everyone loves it so much. I find it vastly overrated. It’s a soap opera, so it does what soap operas do best: suck you in. I’m curious to know who committed the crime at hand and what happens next. I appreciate the diversity in the cast and the placement of gay and bi-sexual characters front and center (though Annalise’s romantic relationship with her female friend was played up as a shocking plot twist and not so ingrained into the story). But I also find all the characters reprehensible and unlikable, except Asher, who has his own problems. And the plot twists are often completely ridiculous, and even, dare I say, stupid.
So what makes everyone so gaga for it? Is it blind loyalty and admiration for Shonda Rhimes? There’s no doubt the TV paragon has made huge advances in television production, and owns Thursday night on ABC, but she’s also not the creator of HTGAWM, but the producer (it’s created by Peter Nowalk). I confess I’ve lost track of Grey’s Anatomy and haven’t watched Scandal (though I’d like to), but I suspect the writing on those shows is better than on HTGAWM. I never felt Grey’s, which I loved until season 7, was overrated, the way I do about HTGAWM.
In its efforts to be “must see TV” (or “must tweet TV”) HTGAWM has twist after twist, many of which are over the top and out of nowhere, not organic or true to the moment. It’s a little aggravating. The action is clearly meant to be titillating and sexy, and to get people talking at any cost.
Dubbed by some as “Grey’s Academy,” Quantico is similar to Grey’s Anatomy but takes place at an FBI training academy. Alex Parrish is one of many young trainees at a big facility, who, like Meredith Grey, also has a one-night stand before joining her new classmates, only to find that the man she slept with is among them. But Quantico has an additional twist in the big season-long mystery: Alex has to not only figure out which one of her classmates is responsible for a terrorist attack, but prove to the FBI that she, their main suspect, is innocent and was framed.
The show has a newer angle too: rather than yet another medical (Grey’s) or law (HTGAWM) procedural, Quantico deals with national security and terrorism on network TV. (I suppose we can blame Homeland for that.) This allows it to be more complex, weaving a twisty web of “trust no one” lies and stories, while building character and still having very likable characters. Because homeland security stories are not as common on television, it makes it easier for audiences to suspend disbelief because we don’t know enough about it. I’ve watched enough of The Good Wife, an excellent legal drama, to see how ridiculous and unlikely the courtroom scenes in HTGAWM sometimes are. I know, it’s silly to compare one fake law situation to another fake law situation, but I know TGW really does their research and they’ve earned my trust over six-plus seasons.
Quantico seems more effortless in its plot twists. There is the occasional ridiculous twist, but more often, they’re clever, more natural and ingrained, more about character and less about getting people talking in any way possible. Of course with both Quantico and HTGAWM, all the characters love the lead character, who is practically perfect and always right about everything. They’re made to look vulnerable at certain times, but there’s rarely any doubt that they’ll come out on top.
My one complaint with Quantico is that the lead character’s name is Alex. I hate when shows feel they have to justify a strong female character by giving her a male or gender-neutral name. And while I love the name Alex generally (it is my husband’s name, after all), it is probably the most common of unisex names (second, I’d guess, would be Charlie). I often feel that television uses the same names over and over again, so it’s funny to me that on both shows, HTGAWM and Quantico, my favorite characters are named Asher (respectively, Matt McGorry plays Asher Millstone, and Tate Ellington plays Simon Asher). Did they plan that?
I’m often trepidatious with new programs, but I was so impressed with Quantico‘s pilot that I couldn’t wait to watch the second episode, and once I did, I was hooked. Not just hooked. Obsessed. It’s clever and exciting, and hugely complex. As more layers are revealed, we see there’s so much more to be discovered. A few ridiculous moments aside, the recruits’ lessons are new and interesting, and it’s genuinely gripping. Everyone, each character, has the potential to be guilty and you wonder what they’re hiding, yet they’re still likable too. I’m really excited to see what happens to these characters, not just what the next big twist is going to be.
So what about you, readers? Are you more Team Quantico, or Team HTGAWM? If the latter, what is it about it that’s so engaging? What am I missing? Let me know in the comments.