It’s no secret that all the prestige dramas are on cable. Television critics routinely look down on network television, and apart from The Good Wife (my favorite drama on television), broadcast shows are seldom recognized and nominated at the Emmy Awards. This season, ABC plans to flip the status quo on its head with the release of it gritty new drama American Crime. And judging by all the rave reviews, this show just might be the next big thing in the television landscape.
Naturally, I had enormous expectations going into this pilot, and aside from an underwhelming ending, the premiere is an impressive production. American Crime knows what kind of show it wants to be: a raw and brutal exploration of class and race. The show is immediately absorbing, and the fact that it’s an anthology series is certainly a plus; it means we’ll get a definite resolution after a handful of episodes, and every season can start fresh with a new cast and premise (a la American Horror Story). It’s definitely a win-win.
The strength of the pilot is primarily due to its terrific cast. One of the main reasons I decided to give the show a shot is Felicity Huffman; the actress was exceptional on Desperate Housewives despite the scripts often relegating her to repeating the same story beats over and over again. She’s reliably fantastic in this pilot, and I immediately latched on to her as a mother grieving for her son’s brutal murder, while remaining hellbent on finding out the truth. In addition, Huffman’s character, Barb, displays undertones of racism (see the quote above); it’s a subtle touch that proves American Crime will be tackling fully-rounded multidimensional characters. Timothy Hutton, who plays Barb’s estranged husband, doesn’t get as much to do in the premiere, but I have no doubt the two are going to play off each other brilliantly in the future. Also a standout? Benito Martinez, who plays Alonzo, and whose son gets into a hell of a lot of trouble culminating in an emotionally-charged sequence that’s undeniably the pilot’s most powerful moment..
However, the premiere’s ending was a bit of a letdown for me. No spoilers here, but I was expecting more of a bombshell revelation from that last-minute twist. Nevertheless, I’m curious to see the show’s complex narrative unfold across the wide spectrum of characters introduced in this hour.
With a tight script, fine direction, and an exceptional cast, the American Crime pilot is a sophisticated and mature opener. There’s definitely potential here for something great down the line.