TV Recap: American Crime, Series Premiere

Written by Aaron Sarnecky

American Crime


After a veteran is murdered during a home invasion, the police contact his divorced parents, Barb Hanlon (Felicity Huffman) and Russ Skokie (Timothy Hutton). Unbeknownst to Alonzo Gutiérrez (Benito Martinez), his son Tony (Johnny Ortiz) might have some to do with the crime. Elsewhere, Carter Nix (Elvis Nolasco) and his girlfriend, Aubrey Taylor (Caitlin Gerard), try to score some meth.

This might be somewhat of a tangential way to start the review, but I have to say I continue to be astonished that TV shows will now tout that their creator was a writer. In the case of this show, creator John Ridley is the “Oscar-winning screenwriter of 12 Years a Slave.” I guess this is a good thing, because for the longest time writers didn’t get their due.

Photo Credit: ABC/Bob D'Amico
Photo Credit: ABC/Bob D’Amico

Because ABC advertised this fact so much, I had high hopes for this show, despite also being a little cynical. And at least, so far, the show is not quite what I thought it would be. Sure, all the elements are there, but they don’t come together in the way I expected.

I’ve seen this show described as an anthology series. Originally, I thought it was going to be like a police procedural, except with episode focusing more on the victims, their families, and the perpetrators. I now know that this means that there will be one overarching plot for each season. Which is fine. The problem is that there are too many smaller plots that make up the whole.

The series clearly wants to deal with many of the social issues people are dealing with today, including: the illegal drug trade, institutional racism, and divorce. To do that, the show has characters that represent different perspectives concerning these issues.

Unfortunately, it’s all too much for one story. For example, the storyline with Barb and Russ has bits about divorce. Now, in this day and age, divorce is fairly normal. It’s sad but true. But why this couple got divorced (gambling and theft), feels forced. Not because it’s unimaginable that this could happen to someone, but because it would work better in its own single episode (like most crime shows do) or season. Their veteran son was murdered, his wife was raped, and a Hispanic man might have committed it. That alone is enough!

Photo Credit: ABC/Van Redin
Photo Credit: ABC/Van Redin

I might have been able to forgive this backstory if the complexities stopped there, but the show is also tackling gangs with the Gutiérrez family, and drugs with Carter and Aubrey. The show is called American Crime, but no crime in America has this many different aspects.

The promos suggest this season will also deal with racism in the judicial system, channeling the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson last year. This story will focus on Carter and his sister, Aliyah Shadeed (Regina King). It’s also worth mentioning that Aliyah seems to be a devout Muslim.

That being said, there are some good things in the premiere as well. The acting in particular, stands out. The scene in which Russ sees his son in the police morgue is particularly powerful. The audience is never shown the body, but just seeing the sudden lump in Russ’ throat tells us exactly how to feel.

This reminds me of another scene, in which Carter beats a man and steals his meth. There really isn’t any visible blood or gore shown. The strength of the scene comes from the sheer ferocity that Carter beats this man. It’s an effective way of showing how low this character will sink just to get high, and it’s done without becoming too tasteless.

Photo Credit: ABC/Van Redin
Photo Credit: ABC/Van Redin

Overall, this show is really hard to judge by its first episode. It’s clearly ambitious, and it is nice to see primetime entertainment tackling such touchy subjects. The problem is that a show needs to tell a well-structured story, and this show just doesn’t. It’s not that the show loses narrative coherence, but that the plot is more in service to the social issues than the other way around.

This show will only be worth watching if it addresses the issues it has set up in a meaningful way.

Rating: 6.5 out 10 (Average)



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