Monday, 14 March 2016

American Crime is essential TV

American Crime is the best show on television. Period. No question about it. I cannot think of another show currently on network television which is needed as much as American Crime. The show upholds the quality of network television, which has come into question many times over the past few years, while also tackling the uncomfortable themes which are unfortunately common in our society.

For those of you who have yet to discover American Crime, the series is an anthology drama series which follows the lives of different characters in a different setting each season. This season takes place in Indianapolis, Indiana, where Taylor Blaine (Connor Jessup) a working class student on a scholarship, attends a private school with an affluent student body. After a party, Taylor accuses several members of the school's championship basketball team of sexually assaulting him and then taking photos of the incident and posting them online. His single, working mother Anne Blain (Lili Taylor) takes it upon herself when the school fails to act adequately to fight for her son. Taylor's performance as a single-mother in turmoil is one of raw emotion, dedication and empathy.

For the past ten weeks, American Crime has delved into heavy issues of male rape and sexual assault, social class, mental health, homophobia and racism with magnificent sophistication and uniqueness. The tone of the show is sombre and subdued while the impressive camera shots and angles which highlight the incredible performances of the ensemble cast convey the desperate situations of their respective characters.

There are a deficiency of primetime network shows which explore these issues outside of the typical police procedural, "case of the week" type shows. On the other hand, the approach showrunner and creator John Ridley employs consists of slow burning seriousness and gravity. There are countless moments within the show which will make audiences erupt in frustration at the intolerant, bigoted and unjustifiable actions of several characters. Even more frustrating is the fact that the characters persist in trying to make their gross actions justifiable.  A prime example of this would be Felicity Huffman's Leslie Graham and many other staff members at Leland Private School, or Lilah Tanner (played by Emily Bergl), closeted jock Eric's (Joey Pollari) bigoted mother, who accuses her ex-husband Curt Tanner (Brent Anderson) of molesting their son once he is forced out of the closet.

Even more shocking and frustrating is when one realises, there are a countless number of people not only in the United States but around the world who hold such archaic views regarding male sexual assault victims and the ways in which class, race and status (or lack of status) continue to be a domineering factor within educational institutions.

American Crime is successful in its storytelling because it takes its primary inspiration from the tragic events we hear about on the news. The show suggests that one traumatic event can lead a character into a downward spiral of emotional discord. For instance, Taylor's sexual assault ultimately leads to him committing manslaughter and facing years in prison. His mother finds support in a hacker, whose actions lead to Leland being exposed to the press, thus causing many of the staff members we have followed throughout the season to lose their jobs. Whether this is a positive nor negative turn of events is for you (the viewer) to decide. Many of these problems arise due to a broken system. A broken legal system, a broken educational system, broken morals, and the frustrations and desperation which manifests as a result. The characters in question are unable to deal with their broken lives which leads to further turmoil.

As we have seen in both seasons of American Crime, a primary form of storytelling is visual which works on an intensely visceral level. In episode 5 when Taylor and Eric are being interviewed by the police about the rape incident, the lingering mid-shots of both characters evoke their varying ways of dealing with turmoil. Taylor attempts to keep himself together but is unable to not show is fright while Eric adopts a stoic and emotionless persona.

American Crime has created its own visual language of sorts. If two characters are speaking, especially in the event of one character confronting the other, the camera tends to linger on one. We see their reaction while the other character responds to their declarations, something which we would not normally see in television or film (The camera would cut to the other character as they begin to speak). When Bert confronts his son Eric about his sexual encounters with men on the internet, the camera lingers on Eric. When Evy (Angelique Riviera), Taylor's ex-girlfriend confronts him about the assault and his sexuality, the camera lingers on Evy's desperate need to uncover the truth.

None of the parents in the show know their children as much as they would have liked to believe. Anne had no idea her son was gay, or that he had an interest in rough sex. Michael (Andre Benjamin) and Terri (Regina King) LaCroix had no idea his son Kevin (Trevor Jackson) was so promiscuous. Nor did basketball coach Dan Sullivan (Timothy Hutton) know his daughter Becca (Sky Azure Van Vliet) was a drug dealer and involved in Taylor's manslaughter case.

Speaking about the LaCroix family, the portrayal of African-Americans within the show is significant. Ridley, a black screenwriter and showrunner, could have used American Crime to show black people as the sole victims of race and inequality. In addition to the race problems African-American face, Ridley conveys an affluent black family who also hold many contradictions and paradoxical thoughts regarding race and their association with the black community as a whole.

In the first episode, Terri fires one of the female African-American employees due to her "poor work ethic". Terri implies she will not save the employee's job simply because they are both African-American women and immediately destroys any semblance of sympathy she may have had for the woman. Terri is also salty about her son dating a black girl, who she clearly dislikes because she believes the girlfriend is below her standards, but is more than willing to persuade her son to date the wealthy daughter of an Indian businessman. We see Terri and Michael out to dinner with their non-black friends, laughing about the fired employee and Terri declares her refusal to have sympathy for her simply because they are both black.

But by the end of the series, when the hacked e-mails have been uncovered and published online, which detail Terri's controversial statements about white people in the midst of the rape trial, and as a result, is demoted and transferred to another branch location, she uses her "black card" to try and get out of the sticky situation.

 Furthermore, Terri and Michael hire a black detective/lawyer to represent them while using the black son-white system to defend Kevin. Which leads to the question, when is it okay to use your so-called "Black Card"? Should there be such a concept in today's society?

The show is far from perfect, however. I think  it was a mistake to include the Mr. Robot-lite hacker story, which did not have a fitting conclusion, or the school shooting story (Eric shoots a basketball play who tormented him).

Since it's debut in 2015, American Crime has become the most successful American primetime network television programme in regards to tackling serious, contemporary topics which many other shows shy away from. It is unafraid to bare the ugly truth although at times it falters, it is undoubtedly the most needed show on television at currently.

UPDATE: American Crime has been renewed for a third season!

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