I don’t usually watch American TV but when I was introduced to American Crime through a piece on NPR, I was intrigued. It was a show that promised to look at “real world issues” as it followed the murder of Matt Stokie and the lives of the various people the murder affected. This show did deliver on this promise, although it was a flawed execution. This story doesn’t shy away from racial issue, class issues, police brutality, immigration, mental illness to just name a few and always takes a liberal side to things. Even though I am liberal, I felt like I was being beat over the head with it at points, and while I appreciate a mainstream TV show willing to tackle tough issues, I wish they were more subtle. Multiple times a hastily thrown plot point or scene would be shoved it with the added impact of showing how corrupt the legal system and law enforcement was and it felt really excessive.
But if you can look past the politics of the show, that’s really not why you’re here.
There’s two things going for American Crime. One is it emotion-packed roller coaster of a story. While the show may be trying to go out of it’s way to hit every square on political issue bingo, it is a legitimately good story. It’s mostly a character driven story, of watching characters grow, develop, and change, for better or for worse as their lives are all changed by this murder. There is the story of the murder which is gripping at first, but I quickly figured out that I never was going to truly know what happened, and to just enjoy the ride. The story is very twisty, and most of the plot points completely blindsided me, while some of the plot points just felt forced and made the story feel fake. For example, in the beginning of the series, normal Latino kid Tony is arrested for murder. The audience knows there’s no way he committed this brutal crime, the police is convinced he had something to do with it, and that’s the first big twist of the story. While I don’t want to say anymore, I will say things don’t get much better for Tony. The writing for this story is a notch above what I’m use to seeing on American TV. While not what I’d call a masterpiece, it’s definitely on the upper end.
The best part of American Crime is the characters. The actors chosen for the roles are amazing, the dialogue the characters speak is so well-written, and the characters are so complex. There’s no real good guys or bad guys, each character has their strengths and weaknesses and you get to see the worst and best of everyone. I can’t pick a favorite performance because I honestly liked them all, but I think Felicity Huffman’s performance as Mark’s mother Barb. She’s a demanding, grieving, sometimes delusional, and racist mother who is trying to cope with losing her son and seeing justice done for him in her own way. I thought she was the worst character on the show for a long time. Not a badly written character but I wanted to punch her in the face. Come the end of the show, I actually felt very sympathetic for her even though she didn’t deserve it one bit.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time with American Crime. While sometime’s a little too heavy-handed for my taste, it’s the best story I’ve seen in a long time. I don’t know if season 2 will be nearly as good, as it seemed they tried to cram everything into season one, but I’ll definitely be giving it a watch.
(I watched this show on Hulu. I have a subscription there.)