Coming storm: New FX drama chronicles '80s crack cocaine crisis

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Ashton Heaps / TV Media
Damson Idris stars in "Snowfall"

Damson Idris stars in "Snowfall"

A rare and untold story is in the forecast for FX this summer. John Singleton ("Boyz n the Hood," 1991) writes, produces and directs the new crime drama "Snowfall," which sheds light on one of the most turbulent periods in American history. The 10-episode freshman series -- full of twists, confrontations and danger -- premieres Wednesday, July 5, on FX.

Set in 1983 Los Angeles, "Snowfall" explores the early days of the crack cocaine epidemic in the region's inner-city neighborhoods -- areas that were hit hard by the sudden flow of drugs into the country from South America. The story follows the crisis's radical impacts on American culture, and how it changed people and geographic areas forever.

The series focuses on three different law-enforcement organizations -- the CIA, South Central police, and East L.A. police --  and depicts urban Los Angeles as a warzone, and follows a variety of characters who face difficult obstacles and choices, thanks to the influx of crack cocaine. Some try to use the new chaos to gain power, while others just desperately struggle to survive.

Produced by legendary Oscar-nominated director John Singleton, it's no surprise that "Snowfall" is projected to be a runaway hit. In fact, the breakout star of the series, Damson Idris ("City of Tiny Lights," 2016), credits Singleton with inspiring his passion for acting, and identifies as a rabid fan of "Boyz n the Hood." Idris, who plays Franklin Saint, a street entrepreneur on a quest for power, is originally from Peckham, England, a rough area of London that some claim parallels South Central Los Angeles. Because of his upbringing there, the actor has a lot of difficult life experience to draw from for his performance.

The rest of the vibrant cast is just as strong. Sergio Peris-Mencheta ("Resident Evil: Afterlife," 2010) plays Gustavo "El Oso" Zapata, a Mexican wrestler trapped in a power struggle within a crime family. Carter Hudson ("A Crime to Remember," 2013) offers a different point of view in his role as Teddy McDonald, a CIA operative running from a dark past, who is put in charge of a hidden operation to fund the Nicaraguan contras. Emily Rios ("The Bridge") rounds out the main cast as Lucia Villanueva, the confident and spoiled daughter of a Mexican crime lord. Each of their storylines shows a different side of the epidemic, and their various goals and obstacles ultimately intersect, with explosive results.

The show doesn't hold back, touching on even the most scandalous events of the crisis. For example, it was eventually discovered that the CIA was involved with many of the drug groups selling into the U.S., a storyline demonstrated by the arc of McDonald's CIA character. Back then, according to McDonald, "if you went to South Central, there weren't any bars on windows; there were less fences." The crack cocaine crisis changes not only the people involved in it, but the very landscape of the city.

Emily Rios as seen in "Snowfall"

Emily Rios as seen in "Snowfall"

After 25 years making films, Singleton is excited to make his mark on the world of television: "I have a whole lot of stories to tell," he told the L.A. Times. "With television, I'm, like, making a movie every week. What filmmaker doesn't want to have the opportunity to do that?" And Singleton isn't just producing; he also wrote the series. Having seen the effects of the crack epidemic firsthand, he's uniquely qualified to bring these events to television.

There are sure to be two general categories of viewers for this series: those who have lived through the events and are likely to feel a sense of nostalgia and time travel as each episode unfolds, and people who are too young to remember those dark days who get to see the repercussions of the epidemic with fresh eyes.

"It's an untold story. It's the story about how cocaine changed Los Angeles. There's a whole kind of oral history, folk tale about this era. And no one has dramatized it. I wanted to do that. It's a nostalgic show. But very, very edgy," Singleton says in the same L.A. Times interview.

Producer and writer Leonard Chang, who worked with FX on the gunslinger series "Justified," is thankful to once again be partnering with a network known for letting writers and producers fulfill their vision. Everyone involved shares a strong desire to do the time period justice -- the writers utilized experts who were on the front lines during the epidemic and they talked to people involved in the dealing and selling of drugs, as well as experts on the CIA and government issues.

FX has always been known for producing shows that push the boundaries of creativity. "Snowfall" promises to uphold that standard with its talented cast and diverse crew. Get an in-depth look at the crack epidemic in 1980s Los Angeles when "Snowfall" premieres Wednesday, July 5, on FX.