Christopher M. Enis
From the the first moments in ABC’s American Crime, you know you’re in for something beyond the standard TV cop show. If the title is any indication, the core elements will be dual; that is, both criminal and racial.
The series centers around the murder of Matt Skokie, a military veteran living in Modesto (CA)… and the assault/rape of his wife, Gwen. The story isn’t as much about the young Skokies, as it is about the three people who are quickly captured and accused of the crime:
The first two are Mexican gangster Hector (Richard Cabral), and Black drug addict Carter (Elvis Nolasco). The third is Tony (Johnny Ortiz), a Latino teenager who’s made a habit of rebelling against his father (Benito Martinez). This crime gets them both caught up in the system and in way over their heads.
On the other side are the victim’s parents, played by Timothy Hutton, Felicity Huffman, W. Earl Brown and Penelope Ann Miller. As the story progresses, all of the parents involved will share some of the same sentiments as we find out who’s really behind this American Crime.
The show’s creator, the Oscar winning screenwriter, John Ridley (who is no stranger to controversial thoughts/opinions on race) doesn’t hesitate to get right down to brass tacks. He shows how the (legal) system swoops in and sucks in the suspects, at least one of whom is almost certainly innocent. The story plays out as an unforgiving, cold, indifferent, and mostly undignified look at what happens when one winds up behind bars and how it affects their families. For the victim’s families, the grief and outrage is understandable and treated in a dignified manner (even if they’re not always worthy of it).
American Crime has been compared to the 2000 film, Traffic and the 2004 film, Crash. While there are some similarities, I feel that American Crime has the potential to be better. The small town locale and racial component points towards similarities in the on-going tensions in Ferguson (MO). That aspect of the story hasn’t been a major part of the series in the first two episodes, but will likely change with the arrival of Regina King’s character, Aliyah Shadeed. She is a driven woman determined to help her brother Carter, and to provide us a polar opposite to the ultra conservative/racially biased Barb.
I think that American Crime, due to its subject matter and adult nature, would have been a much better fit on premium cable. But it still has potential on ABC. I look forward to see how things develop.