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

Giancarlo Esposito’s move to starring roles is a welcome development, but after the gimmicky “Kaleidoscope,” add “Parish” to the list of vehicles – almost literally in this case, since he plays a getaway driver – that don’t do him justice. Relying on the familiar hook of a retired criminal pulled back into the game, that leaves the New Orleans backdrop as this AMC drama’s most distinctive accessory.

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

Faced with money troubles at his business, Parish, without informing his wife (“Ray Donovan’s” Paula Malcomson), grudgingly agrees to an assignment for shady characters engaged in trafficking Africans. Alas, that soon means taking on more than he bargained for, since his new employers are at war with another crime boss, played by Bradley Whitford, who shows up well into the six-episode first season.

Adapted from a UK series titled “The Driver,” “Parish” traffics in lots of played-out tropes, although the show does receive a boost – and generates tension – thanks to Zackary Momoh’s quietly menacing presence as a Zimbabwean gangster known as the Horse, and Ivan Mbakop as his itchy-trigger-fingered brother.

Part of the problem is “Parish” doesn’t deviate much from the kind of roles that have kept Esposito quite busy over the last several years, recently adding Netflix’s “The Gentlemen” to his exemplary contributions like “Better Call Saul” and before that “Breaking Bad,” with a detour into space for “The Mandalorian.” His intensity certainly lends itself to such material, but the Michael Corleone echoes about wanting to go legit while mourning the past create pretty stiff headwinds to overcome.

AMC will seek to give “Parish” a helpful jump-start by positioning its premiere after the finale of “The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live.” Whether the series can capitalize on that scheduling remains to be seen, because once you get past having Esposito behind the wheel, the show too often feels as if it’s stuck in neutral.

“Parish” premieres March 31 at 10:15 p.m. ET on AMC and on AMC+.

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