Last season’s American Crime had the misfortune of being the other miniseries on television with the words “American Crime” in its title. So, while American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson got all the glory, American Crime remained tragically ignored. Hopefully, without a similarly titled, star-studded miniseries to compete with, this year’s season of the anthology series will get some long overdue recognition. Because, while it doesn’t have quite as strong a premiere as last year’s installment, this first episode sets the stage for a thought-provoking season that remains more ambitious than any other basic cable drama.
While last season immediately threw the viewers into a disturbing case involving sexual assault, this year’s installment of American Crime takes on a slower, more deliberate approach. Characters are introduced in brief bursts, providing viewers with a snapshot of their lives and hinting at the broader mysteries to come. Many Crime veterans are back, transforming themselves into new characters much different than their roles in previous seasons. Regina King, for example, plays a social worker who’s short on cash, unable to get pregnant and trying to help save teen sex workers.
Felicity Huffman, meanwhile, plays a (seemingly) kind character for the first time, as a woman who grew up in a poor neighborhood in North Carolina but married into a wealthy family of farm owners that are hiring undocumented workers for help. The overall arc of this season remains unclear, but the abuse of undocumented workers and underage sex trafficking are discussed throughout the episode – important societal topics that set the stage for an interesting season.
Once again, American Crime deserves credit for how untraditional it is. Despite its home on basic cable, American Crime breaks from the classic drama mold. The writers aren’t afraid to take their time telling the story, and even devote full scenes to simply building the characters. Unlike last season, which was driven by a twist-filled story, it’s the theme that seems to be the driving force this time around.
The show also remains edgy and uncompromisingly bleak, while never feeling exploitative, or like it’s just trying to shock the viewer. The disturbing moments are filmed with a clinical eye and documentary-like approach, adding to the sense of realism. But American Crime’s biggest weakness remains – the show insists on censoring itself whenever characters curse, or particularly graphic moments occur. This is distracting, takes the viewer out of the moment and, frankly, comes off as laughable due to how unnecessary it is.
But the strong ensemble remains the reason to watch. With only one episode, Regina King already seems to be campaigning for her third consecutive Emmy. She transforms herself yet again this season, creating a heart-breaking, almost dangerously empathetic protagonist that the audience can both root for and pity. Similarly, Connor Jessup (who overacted a bit too much last year) is almost unrecognizable during his brief appearance in the episode, and Felicity Huffman will surely have a compelling arc as well. The real breakout, however, seems to be Ana Mulvoy Ten, who is incredibly captivating as a young sex worker. If edited together, her scenes in the premiere would make for a brilliant short film, and the promise of her character sharing the screen with King’s is enough to make me come back.
It’s difficult to say more about the premiere, especially since it really just serves as an introduction to its characters and the season’s basic theme, but it’s similarly hard to find fault with this first hour. American Crime is as confident and completely original as it was last year. Here’s hoping it maintains this level of quality, and bakes a compelling mystery out of these breadcrumbs.