The heart of Snowfall, John Singleton’s new FX series about the origins of the crack epidemic, is Franklin Saint (Damson Idris), a smart, kindhearted teenager who takes care of his mother, keeps the neighborhood kids in line, works nights in a bodega, and sells weed on the side for his uncle Jerome (Amin Joseph). One day, a white friend from his fancy high school in the Valley recruits Franklin to procure more cocaine for his pool party. “You afraid to go get it, so send a black guy, right?” Franklin says, quizzically. “I’ll be the black guy. Shit, I’m always the black guy.” Which is how he finds himself in the house of a comical Israeli cocaine dealer (Andrew Howard) who only sells in bulk. And senses an opportunity.
Snowfall is full of moments like this—scenes and interludes that attempt to put the complex racial and geopolitical dynamics of the 1980s drug trade in context. Franklin is just one of a revolving cast of characters who see the growing enthusiasm for cocaine in the U.S. as a way to further their own ambitions, while staying willfully blind to the consequences. There’s Teddy McDonald (Carter Hudson), a disgraced CIA agent who gets involved in an off-the-books operation with Nicaraguan Contras to try and resurrect his career. And Lucia (Emily Rios), the niece of a drug lord who stages a robbery to fund her own business. In its sprawling consideration of the many different players who kickstarted an epidemic, Snowfall ticks all the boxes of a prestige drug drama. But its characters often feel like ciphers, generic stand-ins for the various factions implicated in cocaine’s rise. Singleton can’t quite get to the core of why these sympathetic and intelligent people would be so willing to risk everything for a business whose ugliest elements seem to horrify them.