“American Crime” trivializes social issues

By Katelyn Fournier

via ATV

ABC’s new TV drama, “American Crime,” explores the perspectives of a diverse cast of characters who deal with the aftermath of the home invasion and murder of war veteran Matt Skokie. A host of social issues, including those of race, ethnicity, gender, class, religion, justice and family, permeate every aspect of the murder mystery and the characters’ attempts to deal with both the tragedy and their own personal demons.

Unfortunately, ABC’s bold endeavor to dissect American social politics translates on screen like a contrived soapbox speech when characters consistently fail to back up their talk of personal and social reform with concrete action. As the show progresses through the first few episodes, our protagonists manage to get themselves into increasingly stickier situations and come out of them looking worse than where they began.

When the members of the victims’ families aren’t arguing with each other, they work desperately to point the blame at the accused criminals, racial politics, and each other. These efforts come off as tedious self-preservation rather than dynamic complication of character.

Barb Hanlon, Matt Skokie’s mother, struggles with racial bias and outright racism as a reaction to her son’s death when she isn’t using her estranged husband as her punching bag for his past gambling addiction and failure to support his family. Barb’s estranged husband, Russ Skokie, receives the brunt of Barb’s resentment without much resistance aside from the occasional half-hearted declaration that he no longer feels fearful of her manipulative tactics.

The parents of Matt Skokie’s wife Lily, who remains in critical condition at a hospital after the home invasion, focus their efforts primarily on helping their daughter recover and helping the family heal after the tragedy. Surprisingly, their well-intentioned attempts to reconcile the trauma seems to generate just as much drama as Barb’s relentless quest for justice and the burden of the murder trial. Most of this conflict results from the family’s complex politics of their own. The emotional baggage that continues to pile up as family secrets are uncovered by the murder investigation.

Ironically—or perhaps purposefully—it becomes increasingly easier to sympathize with the accused parties in the murder investigation than the victims’ family. This is mostly due to the dynamic between Aubrey and Carter—an interracial couple who give the show its only respite from the heaviness of the rivalries between all the other characters. More importantly, despite the fact that the accused criminals seem to bear at least a small amount of responsibility for the murder of Matt Skokie, each character’s unreliability is enough to convince us that no one on this show is completely innocent, especially not the alleged victims.

The enormous issues that this series attempts to address could have been explored in all of its rich complexity framed by the murder mystery premise, but ultimately falls prey to petty family squabbles and explicit criticism of the American justice system’s treatment of race without offering many solutions for these conflicts aside from the not-so-subtle canonization of the interracial love affair between the accused murderer and a young drug-addicted woman.

“American Crime” premieres on March 5 at 10 p.m. EST on ABC.

Katelyn Fournier is a contributing writer. Contact her at entertainment@nyunews.com.

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