'American Crime' eyes complexity.

AuthorShattuck, Kathryn

Byline: Kathryn Shattuck

A father receives a call in the middle of the night that his son is dead. Killed.

He wails with grief in a bathroom.

"They think it might be a Hispanic kid,'' he tells his former wife.

She responds reflexively: "Some illegal?''

Then a teenager cries out to his father for help as he's placed under arrest.

Those moments from a commercial for "American Crime'' telegraph the impression that ABC wants to convey of its latest foray into the prestigious limited-series game. This is an intense and provocative show, punctuated with moments of raw emotion. It's not too surprising that it's the creation of John Ridley, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of "12 Years a Slave.''

The 11-episode series -- which airs at 10 p.m. March 5 -- is a trenchant, sorrowful exploration of race, faith, gender, class and addiction centered on a violent home invasion in Modesto, California. Taking the time slot previously filled by the labyrinthine "How to Get Away With Murder'' and airing after the briskly plotted "Scandal,'' it has a purposefully slow and deliberate pace, Ridley said recently in an interview at The New York Times.

"I think every week we do have this emotional resolution, but it's not about having a real episodic closure,'' he said. "Rather, it's about building toward something over time'' -- a device generally left to, say, HBO or AMC or Netflix -- "and that was new space for the network.''

At first reading, "American Crime'' feels a bit like a neatly contrived package of archetypes: the deceased, an upstanding white war veteran; his beautiful wife, sexually assaulted and comatose; and four suspects -- a hustler (Richard Cabral) mired in his many bad choices; a Mexican-American teenager (Johnny Ortiz) who may have unwittingly become an accomplice; and an interracial couple (Elvis Nolasco and Caitlin Gerard) addicted to drugs and one another -- in custody. Case closed.

But soon those characterizations begin to blur, slowly turning what we thought we knew about the scenario, and those involved in it, on end.

"There was a beautiful emphasis on character and behavior,'' Timothy Hutton said of his character, Russ Skokie, a recovering gambler...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT