Spring 2015 Review: American Crime

13 Mar

American Crime

American Crime is a deadly serious drama which uses a tragic murder as a window through which it attempts to show a broad picture of America how it really is, unvarnished and unfiltered. Through a diverse cast of characters affected by and associated with this event, American Crime tries to cut through a broad spectrum of race and class, a tall task indeed. In doing so American Crime, takes part in a long tradition of cultural investigation of race and class issues through crime. The upside to this attempt is Traffic, the downside is Crash, and American Crime ends up somewhere between those two pillars.

American Crime begins right after a young man, a vet, was murdered and his wife raped and left for dead (she’s in critical condition). His father, Russ, is called in by the police, identifies the body, and then reaches out to his ex-wife, Barb. Barb, we learn, apparently raised their kids while Russ gambled the family’s money away and then left, although he forged a better relationship with his sons later in life. We see a lot of the parents grieving together and feeling with one another. When they feel like the policemen aren’t doing their job, they talk to a reporter to try to get the word out and keep the case in the news. Barb takes the opportunity to be casually racist when the killer is suspected to possibly be Hispanic.

Nearby, there’s a single Latino father, trying to raise his two children the right way in a neighborhood bereft with gangs, which has become that much more difficult after the death of his beloved wife. His son, who seems to be the apple of his eye, borrowed a car from their garage (the dad is a mechanic), and without permission loaned it out to a shady gang-related dude for what seemed like some easy cash. This comes back to bite the son when that dude is suspected of having murdered the aforementioned dead vet.

There’s also a third plot strand based around a couple of drug-addled lovers. I frankly have absolutely no idea how this is related to the rest of the show and I’m not sure if I’m missing something or it simply won’t be explained until a later episode.

Considering the on-the-nose potential of taking on race and class in this manner, the content itself is generally not as heavy handed as it could be, though it definitely could a defter touch at times.  The filming style as well is occasionally too much; there are strange and awkward cuts which feel unnecessarily arty; as if the director is really trying to let us know that this is serious stuff. And it is.

For the most part, American Crime isn’t a particularly fun show.  This is the fine line shows like American Crime walk. Like all deadly serious prestige dramas, it can feel like a slog if everything isn’t running on all cylinders. There’s certainly room for extremely serious television, but the less fun it is to watch, the more meritorious it best be in other ways to compensate. There could be some real merit here but I’m also not sure there was enough going on to compensate for how much I looked at my watch as the show was passing. As difficult as attempting to talk about race and class is, it’s certainly a worthy goal, and it’s possible American Crime may have the ability to add something productive to the conversation, but maybe at the expense of being an hour of television anyone wants to watch. The one source of drive for the show could be following the mystery, but it almost feels peripheral in the first episode to all the issues happening.

Will I watch it again? I don’t know. It certainly wasn’t bad, but it also didn’t leave me wanting to immediately watch another episode. Maybe if I don’t forget about it, I’ll come back when my TV week gets less crowded, and that lack of enthusiasm but minor interest is about accurate to how I feel about the show.

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