by Ashley Mills
If you’re looking for an intense, dramatic commentary on the world around you, American Crime is probably your cup of tea. Produced by John Ridley, the director of 12 Years a Slave, the show revolves around the murder of a war veteran in Modesto, California. Reviews and advertisements for the show indicated that it would be gritty, featuring people dealing with very difficult situations and the it certainly didn’t wait long to get started.
As it was the pilot, the show was encumbered by the need to set the story and introduce the rather large cast. There are the grieving parents (played by Felicity Huffman and Timothy Hutton) of the veteran and the parents of his wife, who is in critical condition at the hospital. There’s a widower with his two teenage children. There’s a pair of meth addicts, and a man with a lot of tattoos, along with members of the police force. Each story appears separate and then slowly ties into one another until the final moments when connections are made and suspects are arrested. Meth and pot, two of the hottest drugs in pop culture thanks to Breaking Bad and the marijuana legalization movement, are both featured or shown during the episode.
John Ridley made it immediately clear that the show would function as a commentary on racial tensions in the United States. The veteran and his wife, both white, are described as the perfect couple. The veteran’s mother immediately assumes that her son’s killer was in the country illegally because he is described as Hispanic by the police. When discussing her life raising two boys alone in public housing (she and her husband divorced due to his gambling problem), she asks “Do you know how those people [non-whites] treated us?” The meth addicts are an interracial couple with pictures of other interracial couples in magazines taped to their walls, depicting an ideal lifestyle. The widower, a Hispanic man, stresses to the police that he and his family were in the country legally and that they “did everything the right way.” Another Hispanic man who ran away from the police is questioned in the hospital after he’d been shot in the leg. He repeatedly asks the police officer why he was shot but is never given an answer. Finally, he says “You know why you shot me? Because you don’t give a damn about me.” The police officers were white men.
American Crime has potential. Plot-wise, it was a little confusing, and I am still trying to work out how each character is connected to the crime. I expect that will be cleared up along the course of the season. The characters are flawed and human. The show leaves plenty of room for character growth and I hope it can avoid major stereotypical pitfalls and force the viewers to reconfigure their own stereotypes along the way. After a slow start, the arrests and a big reveal at the end of the episode keep you engaged and leave you wanting more. This is meant to be the type of show that makes you think. And I hope it will continue to do so.