What draws us to crime dramas? What is it about the illicit and illegal that catches our eye? Is it fantasy escapism, the wish to be someone of importance? Or is it something more primal, a desire to shrug off the rules of society and indulge in every passing whim? Tony Soprano wasn’t a man to be admired, but, at times, he was a man to be envied. The Grind a new drama– being shown exclusively on Amazon Prime – doesn’t paint its seedy underworld or its main character – Grayden Carter – in quite the same addictive moth-to-the-flame light, but it does begin to ask why these people do the things they do.
The Grind plops its audience into a New York City-based auto-theft syndicate that has the police and FBI nipping at its heels. We’re quickly introduced to the main players – Grayden, Henry, A-Town, Marcel, Samantha and Denise. None of them really come off as sympathetic characters, not even Grayden, who has just returned from a potentially undeserving six-year prison stint. The premiere’s 33-minute run time cuts down each character’s introduction to the barest of bones. Worn-out archetypes such as the crime boss, the undercover snitch and the “making my own justice” hero are meant to ensnare our interest, but aren’t given enough room to operate. The audience needs someone to anchor them down to justify an emotional investment.
These are roughly sketched characters to start that are mirrored by the show’s rougher technical edges. The sound quality drops in and out at times, removing you from the moment. I won’t fault a series for working on a lower budget, but The Grind‘s walk-and-talk voice over on the NYC streets is a bit distracting.
But still, The Grind shows promise. Writer/director and creator Brendan Kyle Cochrane began his career as a production assistant on A Bronx Tale and you can see where he tries to infuse the DNA of gangster projects past in The Grind. The washed out grays of the city help establish a street-level tone and the methodical mass of machinery crushing steel in a junkyard is enjoyably gangster 101. The show feels like it belongs in the setting it’s trying to create.
Much of that has to do with Cochrane’s framing.
The show opens with tight, over the shoulder shots of a conversation that sees Marcel learn of Grayden’s release. The camera positioning is meant to highlight the importance of this conversation and put the audience right at the center of the scene. It’s almost as if all the action is happening from our point of view. Later, Cochrane shows off his love of wide shots, giving us a look at everything that’s going on while these guys do business and establishing a Big Picture mentality. It’s in these moments when we’re able to take it all in; the dirt and grime of the city and those that inhabit its darker corners.
“No one protects their own,” someone says late in the episode. The line speaks to one of the premiere’s central messages: the sense of power and powerlessness. Grayden wants to protect his family, which is what draws him back into a world he’s promised to leave behind. Henry is forced into feeding information to the Feds, proving what those without power must do to survive, even if its put himself and others in danger. Marcel appears to be the kind of character who will dispose of as many bodies as necessary to keep his power.
Though the characters may not yet be fully developed, The Grind has set them up on a collision course that could help unpack all of the past history merely hinted at in the premiere. That’s enough to give the show a second episode if you ask me.