Quantico: It’s so bad that it’s good

I watch Quantico every week so you don’t have to 

Sonali Ghosh Sen Kolkata 

I have watched every single episode of Quantico right up to the mid-season finale. Not just that, I have watched it after every sublime episode of Fargo (Season 2). Yes, every Priyanka Chopra hair flick moment back-to-back with the cleverly written, brilliantly acted, wonderfully produced series that is not Quantico.

 So flog me now.

Quantico has been described by various critics as a cross between Grey’s Anatomy and Murder, She Wrote with
a bit of Homeland thrown in. I just like to think, if Abbas-Mustan ever had a love child with…well…Abbas-Mustan, they would be called Quantico.

As you might have surmised, the TV series, like an Abbas-Mustan movie, has a lot of goodlooking people preening and pouting with deep, dark secrets lurking threateningly in the background. Add to this a dash of bomb blasts, a kidnapping or two, improbable plot twists and you’ll be wishing for a drag of whatever the writers were smoking when they thought up this series.

Quantico makes me feel deja vu, bewilderment, laughter, boredom and guilty pleasure. All sometimes, in the
same episode.

Rookie agents appear, disappear, hook up, break up, get conned of a million dollars, role play with their twins and sometimes blow their brains out. Again, all in the same episode.

Adding to the confusion is the flashback, fast forward mode, a la Murder, She Wrote, where you see Chopra as Alex Parish, FBI trainee, and Alex Parish, FBI agent, being framed for a bomb blast at Grand Central station. Which should not be surprising, since everyone in Quantico has something explosive (yes, pun intended) to hide, and if there are even 40 trainees in Chopra’s class, the series can probably stretch to at least six seasons. Which means we will have to listen to Chopra delivering these dialogues year after year – “I’m a mere trainee….start talking now or I’ll shoot…pass me the salt” – all with her pretty pout and in her breathlessly coy voice.

But don’t get me wrong, Ms Chopra is not such a bad thing to have in Quantico. Having acted in mainstream Hindi cinema for so many years (and at least one Abbas-Mustan film), she has the hysteria, raised eyebrow and melodrama down pat. And it looks like that has led to a ripple effect with the rest of the cast, as they go Bollywood with a vengeance, with drama that far overreaches their story arc. Nostrils are flared, dialogue is minced out, and every gesture is exaggerated, even if it is just filing your nails.

A good TV series is characterised by the drama it creates, consistently, week after week, season after season. But the drama in Quantico’s narrative shifts so much that it is difficult to empathise with agents walking into a classroom one minute and trying to defuse a time-bomb left in the classroom the next while a trainee locks them up in their own classroom for good measure. That’s when Chopra pipes up, “Concentrate on the term paper, y’all!” 

This also seems to be Ms Chopra’s leitmotif throughout the first season. She reacts to the most challenging situations with nerd-like equanimity. Colleague’s brain splattered on the floor? We should focus on the cold case in front of us. A sniper in the building? Let’s finish homework, guys! So, while the rest of the world finds her cool in a crisis, we’d like to think, like every other Indian student, she just wants to be first in class.

Quantico also seems to be the FBI academy of TV tropes – the golden boy, the blonde, the latina, the twins, the Jewish loner, the cowboy and, of course, Ms Chopra, who adds the not so native Indian/terrorist to the list. With such a smorgasbord of stereotypes, it needs very good writers to help us wade through the racial profiling in the plot. But, alas, Quantico rarely succeeds in making us do that. There are times when, with a deep-sea diver’s persistence, Yamin al Masri (who plays the twins, Nimah and Raina) and Tate Allington (as Simon Asher) try to bring the flailing storyline to action and acting-worthy surface, but after being buoyant for five seconds the plot line sinks to the bottom, episode after episode.

So, why am I still watching Quantico?

That’s because it’s so bad, it’s good! I have finally realised the phrase oft uttered for David Dhawan (and Abbas-Mustan movies) – “Please leave your brains behind at home.” So, I dutifully dust my brain, leave it on a pretty ledge on the window and revel in every cringe-worthy cliffhanger, every peculiar plot twist, every wasted wormhole of a script, and torture myself, after every episode, with what could have been.

But then I confessed at the outset that I am a masochist. And I watch Quantico every week, so that you won’t have to.   

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: JANUARY 2016