Tuesday, March 29, 2016

TV Tuesday: American Crime

Having heard rave reviews of the ABC drama American Crime, my husband and I started watching it this second season (which has just recently wrapped up). My husband found it a bit too disturbing (it's not at all graphic but does deal with some sensitive topics like male rape), but I was riveted for the full ten episodes.

American Crime (not to be confused with American Crime Story which is airing a re-enactment of the OJ case) is a wholly unique show, unlike anything else I have ever seen on TV before. Each season, it tackles a different crime, with an entirely different set of characters and location, and it delves into myriad issues that are relevant to our society today. Timothy Hutton and Felicity Huffman are the lead actors in the show, but they play completely different characters each season. So, essentially, each season stands on its own as a sort of mini-series. I haven't watched season 1 yet, but the synopses I read say it deals with the court trial of a home invasion that resulted in the death of a war hero who may have had some secrets in his life.

Season 2 takes place in Indiana and aims to capture a typical American Midwest town. In the first episode, a high school boy named Taylor goes to a party and later admits that he was drugged and sexually assaulted. Taylor lives with his single mom, who works as a waitress, and is a scholarship student at the prestigious Leyland School, a private school where most of the students come from wealthy, upper-class families. The party that Taylor went to was an annual tradition: the Captain's Party, hosted by the two captains of the school's championship basketball team. It's the kind of thing that most parents and school administrators know about but look the other way. Photos of Taylor from the party - in which he looks drunk and half-naked - circulate on social media, triggering the crisis.

In that first episode, the main characters are introduced, including the boys on the basketball team, especially the two captains, Eric and Kevin. The basketball coach is played by Timothy Hutton, and his wife, the art teacher at Leyland, is played by Hope Davis. Leyland's principal - a completely unsympathetic character - is played by Felicity Huffman. Taylor's hardworking mom is played by Lili Taylor. Eric's and Kevin's parents are also introduced, as well as other important characters. The acting - from the big name actors as well as the lesser known teens - is absolutely superb.

As each episode unfolds, the show digs deeper into the story, as secrets and lies are uncovered. The details of the assault are revealed gradually, although even by the end, it remains a matter of who do you believe? That event triggers an avalanche of effects that reverberate throughout the entire community, eventually leading to some tragic consequences. Leyland, the private, mostly white school, is contrasted with the local public school, where incidents of racial violence break out and the multi-racial administrators struggle to maintain control. The media and the police are also involved throughout the story.

American Crime tackles all kinds of important issues in our society in a way that highlights the gray areas. This second season addresses issues of race, sexual orientation, and class and highlights our biases and prejudices (it seems the first season, though focusing on an entirely different crime, has a similarly broad and thoughtful approach). Nothing is clear-cut here, and the viewer is constantly caught off-quard, wondering who to believe and who are the good guys.

This is a TV show of the highest quality, with excellent acting, realistic writing, and situations that mirror the complexities of real life, with no easy answers. It's a crime show where you never even see the faces of the detectives and lawyers - regular citizens are the focus here, including crime victims, perpetrators, and everyone else affected by the crime(s). If there was a book group equivalent for TV shows, American Crime would be the perfect show for a group discussion - the issues introduced here are complex and thought-provoking. And if you only like stories that wrap up all the loose ends with a nice, happy ending, then this one probably isn't for you. I can't wait to see what they come up with for season 3 (and I still need to go back and watch season 1).

American Crime airs on ABC. The second season has ended, and the last half of it is still available On Demand and on Hulu, and the last few episodes are available at ABC's website. It doesn't seem to be available on Netflix. Both season 1 & season 2 are available at Amazon for $19.99 (or $1.99 per episode). If you missed the start of season 2 and don't want to pay for it, then you will have to wait for season 3 - you don't want to miss this one!


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