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Wild Cards Is One of the Last CW Shows That Feels Like a CW Show

It's no Riverdale, but the Vanessa Morgan-led procedural has many of the same elements that made classic CW shows so popular.
  • Vanessa Morgan and Giacomo Gianniotti in Wild Cards (Photo: The CW)
    Vanessa Morgan and Giacomo Gianniotti in Wild Cards (Photo: The CW)

    The CW’s current slate looks drastically different than it did even just a couple of years ago. Formerly known for its quirky teen drama and superhero staples, the network, under its new owner Nexstar, is now largely focused on unscripted shows, lower-cost “content,” and sports. There are still some scripted projects left at The CW — All American, Walker, Canadian-American co-productions Sullivan’s Crossing and Son of a Critch, the final season of Superman & Lois, and upcoming shows Sherlock & Daughter and Good Cop/Bad Cop. But it definitely doesn’t feel like the same channel that was once home to Riverdale, The 100, Supernatural, and the Arrowverse.

    Wild Cards is one of the few current shows on the network that actually feels like a classic CW series. A co-production with Canada’s CBC, the police procedural comedy drama centers on the duo of clever con artist Max Mitchell (Vanessa Morgan) and no-nonsense cop Cole Ellis (Giacomo Gianniotti). When Max gets busted for her schemes, she makes a surprising choice and agrees to team up with Ellis as his crime-solving partner in exchange for avoiding jail time. Along the way, the two learn from each other, form an unlikely friendship, and discover that maybe, just maybe, there could be something special brewing between them.

    Although it’s no Supernatural spin-off, Wild Cards contains many of the key elements that made classic CW shows so captivating. For starters, the cast is basically a dream come true for teen drama fans. Morgan, who played fan favorite Toni Topaz for six years on Riverdale, is a big draw for viewers, especially now that she’s front and center as the lead character. And though he’s primarily known for Grey’s Anatomy, Gianniotti also had a notable recurring role on another popular CW show, Reign. Plus, Jason Priestley (who plays Max’s father George) famously has roots in the teen drama genre, having starred as Brandon Walsh on Beverly Hills, 90210.

    Amid all the crime solving, Max and Ellis’ will-they/won’t-they? dynamic is at the heart of the series. Romance has always been a huge part of CW shows — virtually every fanbase from The 100 to Supergirl had die-hard shippers who tuned in every week largely just to see what would happen with their favorite pairing. The reason fans remained so invested in these relationships? Chemistry. And fortunately, the Wild Cards leads seem to have a lot of it. “I feel like it's a slow build, Max and Ellis,” Morgan told Primetimer in an interview. “The fact that we already have chemistry makes it so much easier as an actor.” Slow burn, will-they/won’t-they?, rivals to lovers… there’s a lot of popular, fun tropes at play here. Having a romance at the center also distinguishes the series from being just another run-of-the-mill police procedural.

    While “procedural” probably isn’t the first word that comes to mind when you think of The CW in its heyday, Wild Cards actually has a lot in common with former programming like Veronica Mars. The weekly mystery keeps us on our toes, compelling us to guess and look for clues alongside the characters. We get a rush of excitement when we manage to crack the case with Max and Ellis, just like we used to feel satisfied whenever we solved Neptune’s latest mystery with Veronica. It’s also not so different from the mystery series Nancy Drew, which adopted a similar monster-of-the-week format by its second season.

    In particular, Wild Cards Episode 6 (“Dead of Night”) feels the most CW-esque of the series so far. The episode follows Max and Ellis as they investigate a murder on the set of a popular vampire TV show. It’s a fun, meta premise that brings out Max’s fangirl side as she gushes over the cast (including a character played by Twilight’s Ashley Greene) and all of their drama. It also feels like a nod to the old days of The CW — the in-universe show boasts striking similarities to The Vampire Diaries, formerly one of the network’s defining franchises. Plus, the characters just so happen to be filming their show’s own series finale, bidding a bittersweet goodbye to everything they know. It’s easily one of the best episodes of the season, and it’s not hard to see why it’s a personal favorite of Morgan’s. The premise doesn’t feel like something you could just as easily plug into CSI or Chicago P.D.

    Ultimately, The CW will probably never return to the days of vampire brother love triangles and gargoyle kings. As network TV grapples with major industry changes, there may be a lot more unscripted shows and sports on the horizon as opposed to big swings. But on a hopeful note, Wild Cards has proved quite successful for The CW so far, having averaged over 500,000 in live overnights, per Nielsen. Clearly, something here is working.

    We may never see a show like Riverdale on The CW again, but Wild Cards makes the channel still worth tuning into — even if only for Morgan’s impressive ability to take on any accent.

    Wild Cards’ Season 1 finale airs March 20 at 8:00 PM ET on The CW. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Kelly Martinez is a TV Reporter based in Los Angeles. Her previous work can be found at BuzzFeed and People Magazine, among other outlets. She enjoys reading, spending time with her cat, and explaining the plot of Riverdale to people.

    TOPICS: Wild Cards, The CW, Riverdale, Giacomo Gianniotti, Vanessa Morgan