“Quantico” is dumb. I just want to establish that fact right away. Created by Joshua Safran (“Gossip Girl”), “Quantico” aims to bring soapy, melodramatic thrills to the FBI Academy while mixing in a chunk of terrorist conspiracy. Reminiscent of fellow ABC series “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal,” the show attempts to be a sexy thriller, but sometimes veers into the absurd.
It begins with protagonist Alex Parrish (Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra) awakening amid the rubble of a bombed Grand Central Station; “Quantico” relies on a flashback structure similar to “How to Get Away with Murder.” Parrish remembers her time at the FBI Academy after she is informed that one of her former fellow trainees is a terrorist that perpetrated the attack.
Some of the show’s twisty revelations make sense — the death of Shelby Wyatt’s (Johanna Braddy, “UnReal”) parents during 9/11 and Simon Asher’s (Tate Ellington, “Straight Outta Compton”) origins as a conservative Jew who went to Gaza to live among the Palestinians provide inventive, yet realistic backstories. However, “Quantico” jumps off the deep end with twists including undercover agents, secret twins and Mormon mission trips gone terribly awry. The cast of trainees is the usual network TV ensemble of attractive 20- to 30-somethings all with deep dark secrets meant to leave the audience gasping. However, “Quantico” tries so hard to draw these gasps with constant reveals that the show stops becoming shocking, transitions into head-shaking and at worst becomes laughable.
Meanwhile, Academy instructor Liam O’Connor (Josh Hopkins, “Cougar Town”) and Academy assistant director Miranda Shaw (Aunjanue Ellis, “The Help”) are either ignorant or assisting their trainees in keeping secrets. The pair may possess worse judgment than Jack Crawford of “Hannibal.”
“Quantico” needs its audience to believe that the information within these flashbacks is of critical importance to Alex as she tries to make a connection. But the show does itself a disservice in this area, as FBI trainees flirt and ogle at one another while an indie-pop soundtrack plays in the background. These inclusions kill the urgent tone “Quantico” establishes early on, and makes the flashbacks feel meandering.
However, “Quantico” does work on some levels. A few sequences, including an interrogation room exercise where one recruit really doesn’t want something to come out, are particularly effective at ratcheting up suspense.
Meanwhile, Chopra is a solid enough lead. She works best at being a confident, assured agent-in-training. For example, Alex quickly analyzes a fellow trainee, Ryan (Jake McLaughlin, “Believe”), utlizing the smallest details of his life. Chopra conveys the right air of assertiveness, creating an initial allure around her character. But, when it comes to disbelief and shock, Chopra can sound very stilted, like someone feigning surprise at a something they already knew.
This becomes a concern when the FBI arrests Alex for involvement in the attack on Grand Central Station. There’s something missing from Chopra’s delivery as she pleads to know what is going on. Hopefully she improves as the series goes on, the lacking elements of her performance match her strengths.
“Quantico” is in many ways an unapologetic guilty pleasure series. It’s meant to throw its viewers around on a ride that will occasionally make no sense. As Alex finally escapes at the end of the pilot, “Quantico” displays the kind of show it is. As FBI agents swarm the scene, guns drawn, a sole figure in an agency hat walks away. No one questions, “Why is this agent walking away from the scene of an emergency?” — they just let her go. The figure is Alex as pop music soars and her hair billows back. “Quantico” may be a fun ride, but make sure your brain is turned off before getting onboard.