It had been my intention to come to you today and talk about ABC’s new series, “American Crime.” After watching two episodes however, I just don’t think I can do that.
Of course, naturally, that deserves an explanation which means that I will be writing about “American Crime,” but I expect it to be the first and last time. I wish that wasn’t the case, I want to love the show, but I really don’t.
Airing Thursday nights at 10 and created by John Ridley, the series offers up a large cast whose live all come together when a heinous crime is committed. The show then seems to be about finding out the exact particulars of what happened and why, as well as the fallout.
This sort of thing ought to be up my alley, and not just in terms of a long plot with big questions. I am a huge fan of Timothy Hutton who leads the ensemble cast alongside Felicity Huffman. Also included on the show are the likes of Benito Martinez, Elvis Nolasco, Regina King, and Penelope Ann Miller. It really isn’t a bad bunch of folks to see together on a weekly basis.
Honestly, if just Hutton is in a series, I’m going to give it a couple of episodes, because I find him compelling. I once actually suggested that if they were going to go “older” when casting the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman for the upcoming DC movies they look at him. I stand by that suggestion, not because it was ever probable, only because he’d be great in the role. He would be able to one up the Keaton version of Batman, and I love that idea.
But, getting back to the issue at hand, “American Crime.” I don’t have a problem with the bleak nature of the material. It is absolutely fine to do a “see how all these families are ruined by one tragic incident” story. The thing is, however, that really isn’t a new concept, so if you’re going to do it, have something to say about it. Offer up a new and different and interesting point of view, and through two episodes of “American Crime” we haven’t seen anything approaching that.
Looking back on it, I don’t know if we’ve in fact seen much of anything over the course of these episodes. I get that a lot of shows don’t advance things much in episode two, but I feel like episode one was really not even a full start either. Not only that, but you could have guessed many of the moments in the second episode based on the first if you were offered the hint, “what would the scenes be like if we barely nudged things forward at all.” I might watch the third episode, but I dread that if I do, it’s going to be a slightly remixed version of the first two episodes and I’ll hate myself for tuning in.
I don’t recall if they did it in the pilot, but in last night’s episode they had more than one scene where they had let the camera roll (or appear to have let the camera roll) on a single take and then removed moments from the middle of that take, effectively creating short jumps in time from a single camera shot. It is jarring, and when used effectively, I think can be a strong way to highlight someone’s emotions or their muddled thoughts or an important scene in general. When used four or five or six times as “American Crime” did last night, it no longer serves to highlight, only to annoy.
It works as a technique because it’s different from the usual way stories are told on television or in film. You notice the abrupt cuts from a single shot precisely because it’s different, when it becomes the norm it loses its power, and does so rapidly.
The thing is, I’d actually be okay with they’re having done that if I had any sense that this was remotely a story I cared to hear about or had characters I thought would unfold well. Again, after two episodes, I see no evidence whatsoever of that.
What may be worse is that after these two episodes I feel like I have the characters pegged, and that I do because they’re stock characters that could easily be dropped into any number of stories. That really is exceptionally upsetting because it makes me wonder if the point of the whole thing is to take stock characters whom you usually don’t put together and put them together, not that anything interesting will necessarily take place, just to put them together in the face of a tragedy and see.
That last thought makes the series yet another foray into the lives of seemingly normal people to show how not normal they are and to make everyone in the real world feel better about their own personal foibles. More the fool me, because obviously that is exactly what the show is as the title “American” surrounded by the promos about the shattering of the lives of these families should have given away instantly.
It is a shame. The cast is too good to waste on that.
photo credit: ABC/Felicia Graham