Hayes Morrison is the daughter of a former president whose mother is now running for the U.S. Senate. All similarities with Chelsea Clinton, however, end there. Hayes, who graduated first in her class from Harvard Law School, has spent the last few years trying her best to embarrass her family, particularly her mother. When she’s picked up for cocaine possession, District Attorney Conner Wallace (Eddie Cahill) makes her a deal: put that brilliant legal mind to use heading up New York City’s Conviction Integrity Unit or go to prison. After musing that she wouldn’t mind exploring orange is the new black, Hayes agrees.
Hayley Atwell, a British-American actress, last played Peggy Carter in ABC’s Agent Carter. But she’s more than a Marvel superhero with impressive film and stage credentials both in the U.S. and in Britain. ABC’s new drama makes good use of her talent giving her a complex character for her to sink her teeth into.
CIU is not an innocence project. The team is given just five days to reinvestigate a case, the outcome not always a get out of jail free card for the prisoner. Hayes arrives to find that a staff is already in place, including Sam Spencer (Shawn Ashmore) who thought he would be in charge. Other CIU members include: Tess Larson (Emily Kinney), a recent law school graduate; Maxine Bohen (Merrin Dungey), a former police detective now working as an investigator; and Frankie Cruz (Manny Montana), a former convict who knows his way around the prison system.
Hayes is not out to win anyone over, especially her mother. I assume that over time we’ll learn more about this acrimonious mother-daughter relationship, but we had a peek in Episode 2 when Hayes learns that her mother has been spying on her for the district attorney. It seems with the Morrisons, politics has always come before family. Since her mother is in the middle of a campaign, Hayes is often pressured into attending political events by her brother, Jackson (Daniel Franzese), who is their mother’s campaign manager. Jackson is the well-adjusted child, getting along with both his mother and sister, trying in his own way to keep the family together.
While Hayes resents being blackmailed into taking the job, her legal instincts quickly take over. In Episode 1, the case involves a young African American who was convicted of killing his girlfriend. The next episode focuses on the Prospect Park Three, a trio of young men who were jailed for raping and brutally beating a young woman. What the team essentially must do is scrutinize each crime, going back to the beginning to see what was missed, who might have messed up. When the second case involves one originally prosecuted by the district attorney, the pressure is on.
Conviction has all the necessary ingredients for a hit series: a plot involving law and order; the feel good element for freeing the innocent; behind the scenes intrigue (will a determined reporter discover how Hayes really got the job?); politics among a high profile family; and a very talented cast. The big unknown involves the writing, continuing to set up cases that are interesting and plausible. Happy endings may not always be possible.
Conviction is on Mondays on ABC.
Photos courtesy of Disney/ABC