|'American Crime' follows four different subplots unified by a central crime: The murder of a veteran and the vicious attack and rape of his wife.|
Even from the commercials, it was clear that ABC’s latest drama American Crime was going to stand apart from the rest.
Now, two episodes in, it’s safe to say those assumptions were correct. Of course, what would one expect for a series created, written, and directed by the talented screenwriter of 12 Years a Slave, John Ridley? If you haven’t managed to tune into it on TV yet, click over to platforms like ABC Go or DTV and catch up before you read on - this post will contain spoilers!
The series follows four different subplots unified by a central crime: the murder of a veteran and the vicious attack and rape of his beauty queen wife. We’re first introduced to the victim’s bitterly divorced parents Russ and Barb (Timothy Hutton and Felicity Huffman). It’s here the first elements of racial tension are introduced, when the police reveal the suspect in question to be Latino. Barb dismissively declares, “It just figures. My son goes off to another country to fight, then he comes home to be killed by someone from another country.”
On the flipside of her biases are the Gutierrez family, led by single father Alonzo. His straight laced and naive son Tony is drawn into the murder drama after it’s revealed he had been (uncharacteristically) renting out one of the cars from his father’s body shop to the gang member accused of committing the murder. By the end of episode two Tony is already locked up in juvenile detention, even though he did nothing wrong himself.
The crime for which Tony has taken part of the fall is generally attributed to “Hector”, a heavily tattooed Latino man, whom we first meet as he uses the victim's credit card. Thrown into the mix is Carter, an African-American drug addict whose vices include his love for girlfriend and fellow drug addict/sometimes-prostitute Aubry. While viewers aren’t nearly as privy to their stories as they are those of the Gutierrez’s and central characters Russ and Barb, it’s not immediately obvious who has committed the crime in question. Granted, there are many signs pointing to Hector and Carter, but by choosing to withhold scenes from the murder itself, Ridley leaves a lot unanswered.
As Ridley jumps from story to story, the viewer must keep pace and connect the dots.
He flashes quickly from one character to the next, going scene by scene in a style reminiscent of other race and crime-fuelled dramas like Crash and Traffic. It’s shot in such a way that it appears gritty, visceral and “real” in a similar fashion to the aforementioned films as well as the short-lived FX drama The Bridge. The end result is a program that poses questions to the viewer without blatantly asking them.
These questions concern the state of contemporary America, concentrating on current race relations and perceived inequalities within the judicial system. These issues couldn’t be timelier, considering the ongoing state of upheaval following the death of Mike Brown last August and ongoing conversations surrounding racial biases. The show approaches crime in such a way that hasn’t been seen before on a major network, but their risk has paid back in dividends with 8 million viewers tuning into the premiere followed by 5.7 million following up the next week. Ratings aside, critics have been raving about the series as well with the L.A. Times declaring it “must-see TV” and the New York Times perhaps giving the best description of the show yet, calling it “a depressing story told so skillfully that it’s almost impossible not to be happy to see it unfold.”
It’s clear that American Crime didn’t start the fire, but in its clear choice to stoke the flame we can expect to see more than just “entertainment.” For those willing to be shaken from their slumber, this series is a must.
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