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John Medland / ABC

Does Conviction Stand Up To Scrutiny?

Agent Carter would never stand for getting blackmailed into heading the Conviction Integrity Unit, but Hayes Morrison has. Should you watch her do it?

What Is This Thing?

Former First Daughter Hayes Morrison is a walking contradiction: an extremely talented and accomplished defense attorney and a wild child who, as we meet her, has just been arrested for cocaine possession. It's a charge that gives New York City D.A. Conner Wallace just the leverage he needs to blackmail her into heading up his brand-new Conviction Integrity Unit!

When Is It On?

Mondays at 10 PM ET on ABC, starting October 3.

Why Was It Made Now?

New York really has a Conviction Integrity Program (as do many other jurisdictions around the country), the purpose of which is pretty much what its name promises: it's a division of the prosecutor's office that reviews legal cases that ended with a conviction to ensure that they were properly prosecuted and that innocent people have not been incarcerated. Manhattan's Conviction Integrity Program was formed in 2010, but apparently TV writers just heard about it this year: SVU moved its Det. Tucker from Internal Affairs to the Conviction Integrity Unit in its season premiere last week.

Also: Agent Carter got cancelled last spring and SOMEONE needed something new to do.

What's Its Pedigree?

Conviction was created by Liz Friedlander -- primarily a director (of TV series including Pretty Little Liars and The Vampire Diaries, among many others, but also of the Antonio Banderas ballroom dance film Take The Lead (!!!)). Eddie Cahill plays Wallace, much more convincingly than he did Sam Verdreaux on Under The Dome. Hayes's CIU team includes former NYPD detective Maxine Bohen (Alias's Merrin Dungey); ex-con Frankie Cruz (Graceland's Manny Montana); A.D.A. Sam Spencer (Shawn Ashmore of The Following); and paralegal Tess Larson (The Walking Dead's Emily Kinney). And Hayes herself, of course, is played by the great Hayley Atwell, late of Agent Carter.

...And?

I assume that real CIUs take more than five days to investigate each case, but in the context of a TV show, I appreciate the artificial limitations of a ticking clock. It forces the members of the team to be creative in order to move shit along -- something more shows should try to do, frankly. I know the new vogue for procedurals is to take a whole season unpacking a single case, but no thank you.

The show also succeeds in its casting. The standout on the team is Dungey, whose challenges in this new position are nicely laid out in the pilot: as an ex-detective, she has access to cops who worked the cases she's investigating, but given the perception that she's trying to undo work they may still be proud of, she's also regarded as a turncoat. (She also gets a nice moment confronting Hayes, on her first day, with a baggie Hayes tried casually to discard: the serial number on it cues Maxine to the fact of Hayes's arrest, which Wallace disappeared.) Montana's Frankie is sketched in for most of the hour, until we see him in a prison visiting room and learn something about his character that he may not want his colleagues to know.

Hayes's most fun character moment comes when she runs a meeting while changing in and out of options her stylist has brought her to wear to a fundraiser. She's brisk and effective as the boss, but as for her partial nudity (she's never more exposed than a camisole, so as a potential HR matter, it's probably safe): it's either an aggressive way of dominating underlings or she really doesn't care whether they see her. And, bonus, we get to see her putting on pretty dresses.

That fundraiser, by the way? It's in support of a Senate campaign for Harper Morrison, the former First Lady and Hayes's mother.

John Medland / ABC

John Medland / ABC

That's Bess Armstrong as Harper. Angela Chase's mother went on to become fictional Hillary Clinton? LITERALLY WHO ELSE COULD IT BE.

John Medland / ABC

John Medland / ABC

Atwell is still stunningly beautiful -- particularly her capital knockers.

...But?

I assume that real CIUs are not shuffling up cases at random or choosing them based on favourable optics -- Hayes picks the one in the premiere because the defendant is an attractive young African-American man. We're probably supposed to recognize that Hayes is bringing her defense attorney's tricks to this new assignment, and/or remember that she's kind of been forced into this job under duress and doesn't care about being likable, but Hayes's hard-edged attitude doesn't last. There's a moment about halfway through the episode when Hayes ambushes Wallace (with whom she has A Past) in his office and tries to force him to fire her by snorting a line of cocaine off his desk in front of him. He saunters over, sticks a finger in it, tastes it, and tells her it's not cocaine. It's almost an exciting dangerous moment -- she's really ready to break the law in a D.A.'s office! he's not scared of joining her! -- but of course none of that can be true, because this isn't a basic-cable show with an antihero at its center; it's a network drama that airs after Dancing With The Stars.

But the cocaine incident leads to another question, which is: why is Hayes still rebelling against her First Parents like this? Hayes is presumably in her mid-thirties at this point -- well past acting out like a teenager to get attention. Her character's arc is probably going to involve her healing her relationship with her mother (unless there's a Dark Secret in their past like every show apparently thinks it has to have now -- did fake Hillary kill fake Vince Foster???), but starting from this point -- we also hear she's been put on leave from her university teaching job for sleeping with students -- undercuts all the exposition we get up top about her 95% acquittal rate.

Also, I love Atwell very, very much. But she's playing an American First Daughter, and while her American accent isn't the worst I've ever heard from a Brit, it is distracting in its offness.

...So?

It's fine, but eh. There are so many other shows that unless you're a hardcore Hayley Atwell completist, you don't need to make room for this one.

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