Take Me To The Pilots ’14: ABC’s ‘American Crime’

09.14.14 3 years ago

ABC

[In case you've Forgotten, and as I will continue to mention each and every one of these posts that I do: This is *not* a review. Pilots change. Sometimes a lot. Often for the better. Sometimes for the worse. But they change. Actual reviews will be coming in September and perhaps October (and maybe midseason in some cases). This is, however, a brief gut reaction to not-for-air pilots. I know some people will be all “These are reviews.” If you've read me, you've read my reviews and you know this isn't what they look like.]

Show: “American Crime” (ABC – MIDSEASON)
The Pitch: “This is an IMPORTANT drama.” “Why?” “I'm John Ridley.” “And?” “I've given it a name that implies it's an IMPORTANT drama.” “Oh.”
Quick Response: Look, ABC executives have no doubt heard John Ridley's pitch for what they assume will be a sprawling and intriguing drama about race, class and possibly gender in contemporary America and they can be satisfied to look at a decently-acted, not especially fresh or involving pilot and project forward optimistically. I cannot. “American Crime” is a jittery, over-directed — Nobody was telling John Ridley what to do after his Oscar win for “12 Years a Slave” — that will get credit in some generous circles for its interest in race and class, which reads to me as much more reflective of network TV's lackluster interest in such things than anything within the text itself. The mere existence of those elements, plus Ridley's pedigree, will lead some generous sorts to follow breadcrumbs that aren't really there, as a way to ignore a multi-tiered narrative that, at least in the pilot, says almost nothing and fails to effectively settle on a genre at all. If “American Crime” is supposed to be a mystery, it's an utter failure, but it's structured in a way that several things are supposed to play as surprises or shocks or revelations, but instead they play like cheap ironies meant to keep anybody from getting offended, rather than provocative observations about anything. Of course, the moments when “American Crime” tries to live up to its aspirations of grandeur are “Crash”-esque enough to be concerning. I only started humming “Everyone's A Little Bit Racist” two or three times, so that could have been worse. The series is set in Modesto, but filmed in Austin and it's authentic only in forced aestheticized grittiness rather than actual nuanced geography and regionality. Some people are going to find Timothy Hutton and Felicity Huffman's histrionics believable and in a drama about the death of a child, I can't say it's over-the-top, just that accompanied by a shrieky score, it was more than I could take. I liked Hutton and Huffman's quieter moments a lot more. I didn't especially buy the Hispanic side of the story at all, as its weighed down by clunky exposition even before an interrogation scene becomes entirely exposition. And a third plotline with a junkie couple plays as Meth-Head 101 and is treated with an absurd degree of narrative obliqueness compared to the other two over-explain-y threads. I think this sounds more negative than it should. The “American Crime” pilot isn't bad, but it has all of the signifiers of something better — Creative pedigree, Award-lauded actors, cinematic grunginess — but I think that whatever substance it has comes way too cheaply and offers way too little to digest after the fact.
Desire To Watch Again: Moderate? ABC loves “American Crime.” I've heard a couple critic-type-people profess to loving “American Crime.” Perhaps after I see more, I'll find the elements to love myself, but this is a pilot that puts the target on itself and misses the mark too frequently. 

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