Let’s not beat around the bush: Quantico is the most direct result of Shondaland’s success that doesn’t actually involve the participation of Shonda Rhimes. Its diverse cast, central mystery, and addictive, soapy elements are all reminiscent of the queen of ABC. And while Quantico is not as good as her Thursday-night shows — at least not yet — it’s intriguing and dramatic enough to get you hooked.
It is virtually impossible to write about Quantico without comparing it to How To Get Away With Murder. The series begins in medias res, with an explosion that rocks Grand Central Terminal in what is being called the largest terrorist attack on US soil since 9/11. In the middle of it all is Alex Parrrish (Priyanka Chopra), a new FBI recruit who has no idea what the hell is going on.
From there, the story jumps back nine months to when a group of highly diverse and attractive people are just beginning their lives as FBI recruits, packing up to leave home and live in dorms while taking classes on the way to becoming agents. Each recruit has a unique background and secrets: a Southern belle, Shelby (Johanna Braddy), with a deadly sniper shot; a handsome golden boy, Caleb (Graham Roghers), who only looks like he fits in; former Marine Ryan Booth (Jake McLaughlin), who meets Alex on a plane and the two quickly go to bed — well, car — only to later discover each other at Quantico, and so on. There are a lot of characters to keep track of, but for the most part, it’s pretty easy. They aren’t exactly well developed yet, but the basic characteristics are quickly set into place for easy identification.
The pilot, “Run,” and presumably all future episodes jump back and forth between the present, in which Alex is accused of the terrorist track and interrogated, and the past, in which flashbacks reveal all the juicy going-ons at Quantico. As you’d expect with a bunch of hot young people living together, there’s lots of sexual tension and attractions and secrets and awkwardness. In the first episode, the recruits are given an assignment where they have to find out and reveal the one secret about a fellow recruit that is blacked out on their file. The plot is fun and quick, providing us with valuable insight on the recruits — helping us play along with the mystery and pick up clues ourselves — as well as engaging situations and some truly shocking turns.
A lot of Quantico is vaguely familiar — 24‘s terrorism, How To Get Away With Murder‘s structure, Homeland‘s ridiculousness, Prison Break‘s clues, LOST‘s large ensemble cast — but it still manages to pull off genuine surprises, in both gasp-inducing dramatic moments and legitimately characters’ unpredictable personal secrets. It isn’t all good: some characters are stereotypes, the pilot involves the occasional eye-rolling exposition, and the show runs the risk of either blowing its mystery early or prolonging an answer for so long the series could get tedious and drop off.
Despite all of that, however, Quantico might be the most engrossing, dramatic pilot of the fall season. The cast is great and memorable — particularly Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra, who commands the screen every time she appears, so much so that I’m always itching to get back to her when the focus is on one of her classmates. It hits the correct soap opera beats, lovingly borrows from Rhimes, and remains a fun ride throughout the first hour. It’s too early to say definitively that Quantico is “good,” but it’s the first pilot I’ve seen this season that had me immediately wanting more.
Quantico premieres Sunday, September 27 at 10 PM on ABC.