‘Parish’ put Giancarlo Esposito behind the wheel, but stuck in neutral

‘Parish’ put Giancarlo Esposito behind the wheel, but stuck in neutral

Giancarlo Esposito’s move to a starring role is a welcome development, but after the gimmicky “Kaleidoscope,” add “Parish” to the list of vehicles — almost literally in this case, as he plays a getaway driver — that doesn’t do him justice. Relying on the eyes of retired criminals drawn back into the game, that leaves the backdrop of New Orleans as the most distinctive accessory of this AMC drama.

Nursing old emotional wounds, Esposito’s Gray Parish has moved on, insisting “My wheel days are over” when he’s approached about a new illegal gig by his longtime associate Colin (Skeet Ulrich), who’s back on the streets after time in prison.

Faced with money problems at his business, Parish, without informing his wife (“Paula Malcomson’s Ray Donovan), reluctantly accepts an assignment for a shady character involved in the trafficking of Africans. Unfortunately, that soon means taking more than he bargained for, as his new employer is at war with another crime boss, played by Bradley Whitford, who appeared well in the six-episode first season.

Adapted from the UK series “The Driver,” “Parish” dabbles in a lot of tropes, though the show gets a boost — and builds tension — thanks to Zackary Momoh’s quietly menacing presence as a Zimbabwean gangster known as Kuda , and Ivan Mbakop as his brother with itchy fingers.

Part of the problem is that “Parish” doesn’t deviate much from the kinds of roles that have kept Esposito relatively busy in recent years, recently adding Netflix’s “The Gentlemen” to his exemplary contributions like “Better Call Saul” and before that “Breaking Bad, ” by warping into space for “The Mandalorian.” The intensity is certainly appropriate for such material, but Michael Corleone’s echoes of wanting to be legitimate while mourning the past create obstacles that are intense enough to overcome.

AMC will try to give “Parish” a head start by placing its premiere after the end of “The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live.” Whether the series can take advantage of that scheduling remains to be seen, because once you get past Esposito behind the wheel, the show too often feels as if it’s stuck in neutral.

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