March 5, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “American Crime”


AMERICAN CRIME:  Thursday 10PM on ABC – Potential DVR Alert

Recently, the broadcast networks have started kicking the tires of what we think of as “cable” oriented programming, by which we mean serialized, darker, more emotionally ambiguous and less genre-bound stories that require serious attention from viewers.  This kind of programming is against broadcast TV’s basic principles, in a way, because the networks’ purely ad-based economic model requires broad audiences, and these kinds of shows don’t tend to attract those kinds of crowds (although they may be younger and more affluent, which earns them premiums from advertisers).  Some of the series (FOX’s The Last Man On Earth) are working out better than others (FOX’s Broadchurch, NBC’s The Slap), but it’s heartening to see the Big Four at least attempting to push their collective envelope.

ABC’s latest venture toward this end is AMERICAN CRIME, and at first glance, it’s a very promising piece of work.  Its auteur is John Ridley, who had been an experienced TV writer/producer for two decades before leaping to the ranks of Oscar winners with his script for 12 Years A Slave.  Ridley wrote and directed the opening episode himself, which effectively sets out the sociological and emotional stakes of the gritty drama to come.

The crime of the title is a home invasion in a medium-sized California town, in which Matt Skokie, an Iraq war veteran, was murdered, and his wife Gwen was viciously attacked.  The ripple effects of this crime arc across a variety of people.  Matt’s miserably divorced parents, Russ (Timothy Hutton) and Barb (Felicity Huffman), are forced to spend time together, and their ugly chemistry (Russ is a wreck who deserted his family and who’s been trying to put his life back together, Barb is embittered and intolerant) makes their every encounter a minefield.  Gwen’s parents Tom (W. Earl Brown) and Eve (Penelope Ann Miller) are seemingly more stable, buoyed to an extent by their religious faith.  Alonzo Gutierrez (Benito Martinez) is a middle-class garage owner who’s horrified to learn that his earnest teenage son Tony (Johnny Ortiz) may have been instrumental in the attack.  Carter (Elvis Nolasco) and Aubry (Caitlin Gerard) are the wretched junkies who may be the guilty parties.  It’s clear, though, that the first impressions we have of these characters may be misleading ones.

The actors all give powerful performances.  It’s a particular pleasure to see Hutton playing a role that gives him such rich material, and Huffman has no qualms about being viewed as unsympathetic.  These are people with a lot of edges and shades, and even the landscapes have the visual intensity we associate with series like Breaking Bad and True Detective rather than network entertainment.  The hour is compelling and ambitious, with subjects like race, class and religion on the table.  Whether Ridley will be able to sustain this level of work, and whether his measured pacing and willingness to set a contemplative mood will work for viewers who’ve just watched 2 hours of superpowered Shonda Rhimes melodrama remains to be seen.  The show’s opening stanza, however, is sharp and skillfully delivered, an hour that wouldn’t feel out of place in the more prestigious neighborhoods of cable.


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."