January 7, 2016

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Premiere Review: “American Crime”


AMERICAN CRIME:  Wednesday 10PM on ABC

AMERICAN CRIME‘s first season was, if not great network television, certainly ballsy.  John Ridley’s series took on race and class and religion to boot, and it was shot in a self-conscious “art film” way, with lengthy, intense close-ups, a measured pace, and a minimum of both music and editing.  The ratings were barely so-so (although it may have made up for some of that with educated/affluent demos), but it provided welcome prestige value to ABC’s line-up, and its anthology format meant that there would be a chance to reboot in Season 2.  (Like American Horror Story, Crime uses largely the same cast as a repertory company, playing different roles in its new story.)

That season has now begun, and it feels marginally less harsh than the first.  The milieu this time is a tony private school, race and religion are (for now, at least) in the background, there’s no homelessness or drug abuse on display, and there’s less (silenced) profanity.  Nevertheless, Ridley is again aiming high.

The initial hour, written and directed by Ridley, mostly served to introduce the characters and basic situation.  The focal point is Taylor Blaine (Connor Jessup, from Falling Skies), a scholarship student held in disdain by his well-off classmates.  Photos of him at a basketball team party engaging in “lewd behavior” appear on social media, prompting his suspension from school, much to the concern of his hard-working mother Anne (Lili Taylor), and by the end of the episode, Taylor has reluctantly come forward to accuse members of the team of drugging and raping him at the party.  In the first instance, class is the issue, as the school’s headmistress (Felicity Huffman, again shouldering the series’ least sympathetic role) is officious but dismissive of the charge.  We can assume that the children of coach Dan Sullivan (Timothy Hutton) and of Terri LaCroix (Regina King), who both attend the school, will become featured players in the drama.

It wouldn’t be accurate to say that Ridley has a lighter touch this time around, but things do seem a bit less agonized, and the scenes don’t carry with them a burden of trying to reflect every American social issue at once.  The photography is slicker, and the pace somewhat faster.  The show continues to give meaty material to its fine cast (Hope Davis and Andre Benjamin join the ensemble this time, as Hutton’s and King’s spouses), although it may be a challenge for Ridley this time to have so much of the grim narrative dependent on teen characters.

In its despairing way, the first American Crime became quite compelling as it proceeded to its dark conclusion, and Season 2 certainly has the potential to do the same.  Whether its slight softening will bring in more people to watch is less certain, but ABC deserves some credit for giving the risky series an opportunity to find out.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."