I’ve been watching the new ABC series, American Crime, which is on Thursday nights at 10 pm.
I want to write some of my reactions to the show, and I’ll use as my starting-point wikipedia’s succinct description:
“The show follows the aftermath of a murder in Modesto, California. War veteran Matt Skokie is killed during a home invasion in which his wife, Gwen, is brutally attacked. The series uses the crime and its subsequent journey through the legal system to explore complex issues, mainly through the lenses of the victims’ and suspect’s families.”
I’ll go through some (but not all) of the characters so that those who have not seen the show will know what I am talking about when I share my reactions. It is tedious, I know, but it is necessary background information.
Felicity Huffman (of Desperate Housewives) plays Barb Hanlon, who is Matt Skokie’s mother. Timothy Hutton plays Russ Skokie, who is Matt’s father, and who is divorced from Barb (and it was a bitter divorce). David Hoflin plays Mark Skokie, who is Matt’s little brother, and who is also in a branch of military service. On Gwen’s side of the family, Penelope Ann Miller plays Eve Carlin, Gwen’s mother. W. Earl Brown plays Tom Carlin, who is Gwen’s father. Lili Taylor (of Six Feet Under) plays Nancy Straumberg, who assists Barb as part of a victim’s advocacy group, and who herself lost a daughter to murder. They are all white.
The person accused of murder is an African-American named Carter Nix. His girlfriend is a young white woman named Aubry Taylor, who uses drugs, but who does love her boyfriend. Regina King plays Aliyah Shaheed, a convert to African-American Islam who does not care for her brother’s decisions, but who is marshaling resources from her community (i.e., an excellent lawyer) in order to support her brother.
We learn in the course of the first two episodes that Matt and Gwen were not picture-perfect as people thought. Matt was selling drugs, and he was selling drugs even before he went into the army after 9/11 to fight in Afghanistan; that was why his Mom got him to join the army. Gwen was sleeping around, and her father Tom is disappointed to learn that, calling her a slut.
The show explores racism. If Archie Bunker was the stereotypical angry white man, Barb is an angry white woman. She has prejudice against people of other races—-not really at the KKK level, but in the sense that she looks down on them and thinks that society gives them special privileges. She may have had those prejudices most of her life, but they were amplified after her husband left her and her kids due to his gambling addiction, and she had to raise her kids in the projects, where she says that her kids were bullied by some of the minorities there. Aliyah, the sister of the accused, is an African-American Muslim. She does not trust white society, hates her brother’s relationship with a white woman, and even mocks one of the prosecutor’s Jewish names. Barb and Aliyah are different in their ideology, but they are remarkably similar in certain respects: there is their prejudice and sense of disenfranchisement, but there is also their strength. They are confident, intelligent women who will not let anyone push them around, who do not hesitate to say what they think, and who fight to get what they want. In terms of differences, I would say that Barb is a lot more morose than Aliyah is—-and that’s not just because Barb has lost a son but because she is a rather bitter woman, in general. Barb is like Felicity Huffman’s Desperate Housewives character, Lynette, in terms of her strength and confidence, but Barb is a lot more morose than Lynette was. Aliyah, on the other hand, has found fulfillment and pride on her religious path. I like stories in which strong characters confront (yet hopefully come to understand) each other, so I am eager to see what the interactions between Barb and Aliyah will be like.
Mark, the brother of Matt, seems to me to be a peacemaker. He probably had to fulfill that role much of his life—-with his parents hating each other, and his brother dealing drugs. In one scene, Mark tries to encourage Tom (Gwen’s father) to be a responsible parent and to support his daughter, even though Tom thinks that Gwen is a slut. Mark shares some secrets about his own family that Tom does not know and urges Tom to be better than that. In a moving scene at the end of last Thursday’s episode, Tom and Eve are watching as their daughter Gwen comes out of her coma, and you can tell by the look on Tom’s face that he is ready to support his daughter, whatever mistakes she may have made.
Last Thursday’s episode was the best so far because it went into the backgrounds of various characters. There is Aliyah’s phenomenal, powerful speech about why she became a Muslim. There is also Nancy’s advice to Barb about how to dress at the trial, and Nancy’s tragic personal story about why that is so important. I get tears in my eyes as I think about last Thursday’s episode.