The Spool / Reviews
No les bons temps rouler in Parish
Parish, AMC’s Giancarlo Esposito-led crime drama, has nothing new to say and yet takes so much time to say it.
5.8
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Theoretically, Parish is an adaptation of the three-episode British series The Driver. In practice, the similarities boil down to “What if there was a driver who used to do crime and might start again?” Considering how standard the plot is—a reformed criminal pushed back into a life of crime—it seems strange to call it an adaptation.

To get specific, Gray Parish (Giancarlo Esposito) is a former wheelman who left crime a long time ago. In the time since, he met and married Ros (Paula Malcomson) and started a livery service. He and Ros had two children together as well, Maddox (Caleb Baumann) and Makayla (Arica Himmel). A year before the show’s story begins, Maddox was shot to death, and the killer remains at large. Gray has particularly struggled with the fallout. Additionally, his business is falling apart, seemingly from a combination of his grief and the economy.

Into this precarious situation arrives Colin (Skeet Ulrich), a friend of Parish’s from the old days. Colin, barely out of prison, has already gotten in trouble with The Horse (Zackary Momoh), leader of an increasingly powerful New Orleans gang, The Tongais. To keep himself alive, he needs Parish’s help in cleaning out a safe. Out of a mix of loyalty and his own financial desperation, Parish agrees. Unfortunately, one job is never just one job.

Skeet Ulrich looks ready for Thunder Road. (Alyssa Moran/AMC)

If it sounds familiar, well, it should. Viewers have likely seen a dozen or more films and TV series with near-identical plots. That genericness is, sadly, Parish’s original sin, one it never overcomes.

It’s all the more disappointing as series developers Danny Brocklehurst—who also created the British original—and Sunu Gonera have plenty of tools assembled to give the preceding a zing. For one, there’s the location. As one of America’s coolest and most distinctive cities, there’s plenty to do with setting your tale in New Orleans and its surrounding environs. However, save for one shootout in a local graveyard, the city remains largely untapped. It could be almost anywhere.

Additionally, Parish offers some strong villains that it never succeeds in paying off. Momoh gives The Horse the façade of nobility with strains of his more typical criminal impulses shining through. His brother/lieutenant Zenzo (Ivan Mbakop) is volatile, convinced that to be anything but betrays their family legacy. On the other side of the developing—but largely never arriving—gang war is the crime boss dressed up in political respectability Anton (Bradley Whitford). His slippery grasp of the New Orleans accent somehow works for the character, adding to the sense that everything about him is false.

Parish (AMC)
Bradley Whitford and Zackary Momoh get closer. (Alyssa Moran/AMC)

The confrontation between Anton and The Horse at a fundraising event reflects the show in microcosm. There’s an excellent build-up of tension and a cracker of a first line between the two. However, when the story returns to them at the start of the next episode, the situation fizzles out almost immediately. So much of Parish goes that route—plenty of anticipation, little by way of satisfying climax.

One complaint about this era in entertainment is that television has sucked up too many of the stories that would’ve made for compelling mid-budget movies with decidedly mixed results. Overall, it is not a point of view I’ve found especially convincing. That said, Parish would be a fine example for those making such an argument. There is a strong two-hour film in this show’s story and players. Esposito remains a compelling performer to watch and Ulrich is a nice surprise as the ne’er-do-well friend/catalyst. But stretched over the length of a miniseries, it drags. Even characterization, something an extended run time would usually give the creators more space to realize, feels thin and underdeveloped. The locals would declare it a thin roux at best.

Parish slips behind the wheel on AMC starting on March 31.