American Crime is a patchwork quilt of interconnected vignettes that on its surface, will set out to examine crime in America. The series premiere episode lays the foundation for a murder mystery of sorts. Over the course of the show, I had the distinct impression that the writer watered-down the story after recent real life events of police brutality, violence and the murders of innocent people by racist, overzealous policemen.
One of the worst things any parent wants is to be stirred awake with disturbing news about their children’s well-being. Once the uncertainty becomes a reality, the child’s life flashes before the parents’ eyes. All future hopes and dreams drains from the face and body of remaining family members. The death that opens the show is a white former soldier whose mother believes was an exemplary son and citizen on his way to accomplish great things in life. The soldier’s wife barely survives, and we’re well on our way to blaming “some illegal Mexican” in Modesto, California.
The pacing feels rushed, as does the inflammatory language, finger pointing and white racism against Hispanics and African Americans. People rush to judgment daily, and it’s with this acceptance that frees some of the Caucasian characters to shriek, curse and overreact.
Felicity Huffman (Barb) is the picture of a lower middleclass white woman who has been and will probably always resent minorities and foreign people. Timothy Hutton (Russ) is the father who never quite grasped what it meant to be selfless and supportive of his wife and kids. The other white couple portrayed by W. Earl Brown (Tom) and Penelope Ann Miller (Eve), are less toxic and racist, and seem to want to blend into the woodwork while their daughter, Gwen, clings to life in a coma.
The “crime” doesn’t take center stage in the first episode, and we’re left to deal with Dragnet-inspired cops investigating possible leads and suspects. “American Crime” feels retro small town USA, circa 1980’s. Viewers don’t need to see the attack and murder play out on screen. It’d be better that we imagine a military veteran struck down in his prime. Cue the gasps and outrage at yet another senseless crime at the hands of a minority.
I’m all for being clever and/or provocative if that’s the direction of the show. My question is why then trade on certain cultural and lifestyle stereotypes, or is that the answer to my query?
I’m personally familiar with crime in America. My family’s buried relatives too soon, and in our own individual ways, we questioned all aspects of the various incident reports. Our first thoughts were what happened and why, followed by any information on the alleged perpetrator, their race initially a non-issue.
American Crime begins by tossing bricks atop racial landmines. I wonder if the audience will be split along ethnic lines with each subsequent episode. The fact that I’m unsure is probably what John Ridley had in mind, to make viewers uncomfortable with the status quo. Americans too easily accept that a majority of criminals are African American or Hispanic, when there are just as many Caucasians, Asians and other races in our overcrowded American prisons.
Perhaps it will come to pass that the crime explored in American Crime is the rush to label, judge and give into our base prejudices, stereotypes and racism when we don’t have all of the facts, and even afterward. Can we cast aside who we have been raised and taught to be in exchange for accepting people as humans, at face value? I’d be on board for that type of discussion, as opposed to being poked and titillated for weekly ratings.