Getting through an episode of American Crime is exhausting.
Coming from 12 Years A Slave screenwriter John Ridley, the anthology series follows the aftermath of a brutal attack on Matt and Gwen Skokie. The premiere, which aired March 5 on ABC, opened with Matt’s father Russ (Timothy Hutton) being called to Modesto, California to identify the body of his son.
The main focus of the show isn’t who killed Matt, though, it’s who is affected by the murder: the people who loved him, the people arrested for the crime, and the families of the accused.
After you get to know everyone involved, and details of the circumstances behind the attacks start trickling out, finding out who did it is almost an afterthought. You’re given just enough information to court reasonable doubt — appealing to your empathy by showing in detail the struggles in prison and background stories of Tony, a young boy who loaned a car out to the wrong person, Hector, a thief trying to escape his past, and Carter, a drug addict trying to provide for himself and his girlfriend.
On the other end of this crime is Matt’s family: Russ, a former deadbeat dad who had been working hard to repair his relationship with his kids, Barb, a seemingly cold, Type-A protective mother who desperately wants vengeance for her son’s death, Matt’s wife Gwen, who is in critical condition at the hospital, and Gwen’s parents Tom and Eve.
Back to why I called American Crime — which currently has aired six episodes –“exhausting”: this is some emotionally draining television. For me, watching American Crime evoked a lot of the same kinds of feelings as with shows like True Detective and Top of the Lake; it gives an unflinching look at serious subject matters like race, culture, religion, police brutality, and systemic racism and injustices, all tied into what might otherwise be a typical crime drama.
The show boasts a very strong cast, with nuanced performances and interestingly written characters evoking emotional responses from the audience. I was absolutely gutted by Russ’ reaction to seeing his son’s body in the season premiere. Barb, in particular, has been difficult to connect with as the series went on, but Felicity Huffman plays her character’s insecurities with care. American Crime‘s visuals are gorgeous, and though the editing style (which often provides lingering shots on characters’ reactions interspersed with other images) takes some getting used to at first, it’s an interesting approach at showing inner turmoils.
Despite high praise across the board from critics, though, ratings for American Crime have been dropping week to week. It’s unclear whether the anthology series will be picked up for a second season, but either way, the story of Matt Skokie and Co. will end with the final eleventh episode on May 14.
Episode 7 of American Crime airs tonight at 10pm on ABC.