Where would golden-age TV be without drugs? Illicit substances have served shows almost like characters, each with its own circumstances and even personality: heroin in “The Wire,” meth in “Breaking Bad,” marijuana in “Weeds,” bootleg hooch in “Boardwalk Empire.” “Snowfall,” which begins Wednesday on FX, aims to write an origin story for crack cocaine, which spread virally in the 1980s, and to invest viewers in the lives that it changed or ended. Over the first six episodes, though, it doesn’t yet get around to the first goal, and it manages the second only now and then.
Created by John Singleton, along with Eric Amadio and Dave Andron, “Snowfall” sets up a sprawling story. (That’s what drug dramas do; they sprawl.) The first and most compelling part kicks off in June 1983, the camera swooping down on a palm-tree-lined street in South Central Los Angeles, the turf of Mr. Singleton’s 1991 movie, “Boyz N the Hood.” We meet Franklin Saint (Damson Idris), a level-headed kid fresh out of a fancy suburban school he attended on scholarship. At school, there was no place for him — he felt like “a mascot” — so he’s working at a convenience store and doing small-time dealing. When chance connects him with Avi Drexler (Alon Moni Aboutboul), an Israeli coke kingpin with gleaming gold-rimmed shades and a necklace, gun and phone to match, Franklin gets a dangerous opportunity to apply his ambition.