October 4, 2016

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Conviction”


CONVICTION:  Monday 10PM on ABC – Change the Channel

It’s routine to refer to a procedural TV series as featuring a “case of the week,” but ABC’s CONVICTION takes it literally.  When former First Daughter and party girl Hayes Morrison (Hayley Atwell) is arrested for cocaine possession and blackmailed by NY’s politically ambitious DA into heading a new task force investigating disputed convictions in exchange for the charges against her being dropped, part of the arrangement is that she and her team will have no more than five business days to review any case and recommend that it be reversed, re-tried, or left in place.  That makes things easy for series creators Liz Friedman and Liz Friedlander, who further subdivide each act of the pilot by the number of days remaining, but it doesn’t make for much sense of spontaneity in the storytelling.

But then spontaneity is the last thing on Conviction‘s mind.  It’s an utterly rote TV product, not only uninterested in breaking any new ground, but equally as little in doing anything interesting with the old.  Hayes’s task force is a collection of cliches:  Sam Spencer (Shawn Ashmore) is a second in command who has his eyes on Hayes’s job (but comes to respect her by pilot’s end), Maxine Bohen (Merrin Dungey) is a cop’s daughter who has to learn to acknowledge that sometimes the cops are in the wrong, Frankie Cruz (Manny Montana) is the ex-con forensics expert, and Tess Larson (Emily Kinney) is the naive paralegal with her own reasons for wanting to correct the system’s wrongs.  It should go without saying that Conner Wallace (Eddie Cahill), the DA who cut the deal with Hayes, has a romantic past with her, and that Hayes’s mother (guest star Bess Armstrong), who’s running for the Senate, is smoothly domineering.

The pilot’s plot (the script is by Friedman, from a story by both creators) is laughably simple, as the evidence that kept a former high school football star in prison for 8 years for murdering his girlfriend is demolished in about 5 minutes of screen time.  Hayes herself is constantly being lectured to about her own brilliance, even as she humblebrags about how troublesome she is, but neither is really in evidence:  her insights as an investigator are only medium-level inspired, and her supposedly outrageous behavior is highlighted by trying on dresses in her (not particularly naughty) bra in front of her staff.  She’s so toothless that when she appears to be doing coke in front of the DA, it turns out that she’s using fake drugs.

Conviction is slickly directed by Friedlander, but its only really asset is Atwell, who’s believably smart and committed.  The script, though, shortchanges her at every turn, making Hayes seem superficial even when she’s supposed to be experiencing real emotion.

Wednesday nights aside, it’s been a lousy fall for ABC, and Conviction isn’t likely to help.  As legal procedurals go, it’s so forgettable that–and these are words I didn’t expect to be typing all season–it makes CBS’s Bull look clever by comparison.

NETWORK FINAL:  Is There Jail Time For Bad Writing?

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."