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Third-episode verdict: American Crime (US: ABC)

Posted on March 25, 2015 | comments | Bookmark and Share

BarrometerAmericanCrime.jpgA Barrometer rating of 0

In the US: Thursdays, 10/9c, ABC

So what is an American crime? Well, according to the rather brilliant ABC show American Crime, it’s a regular crime but observed as simply part of a wider picture, in which systems and attitudes lock individuals into situations and behaviours they can’t escape.

Following on from an apparent burglary in which a veteran is killed and his wife raped, the show depicts how the crime and the investigation affects the families of those involved. But it also asks why the crime happened, how society views the crime, whether the crime is indicative of larger problems and whether there’s a middle ground that could be reached by everyone that’s unachievable thanks to the extremes and rules society lays down.

Following a first episode that was perhaps a little self-conscious of its own importance and that occasionally escaped from its combination of artful direction and verisimilitude to give us aspects that were a tad ‘writerly’ in their unlikeliness, the following two episodes have barely put a foot wrong in showing us the insides of the American justice system and how it can trap those who have barely done anything wrong or who would benefit from either treatment of human kindness. It’s tried to put in the shoes of junkies, drug dealers, legal immigrants, illegal immigrants, Latinos, black Americans, white Americans, fathers, mothers and everyone else as their lives overlap and they fail to understand one another, only knowing their own lives and what society tells them to be.

The show's a hard watch. It is literally the last thing I watch out of every week’s viewing, not because it’s a bad show, but because it’s such a dishearteningly true picture of reality, without any glimmer of hope and goodness to relieve the misery, beyond the fact it’s on broadcast TV so can’t quite tread into the darkest realms. That's why I’ll only doing my third-episode verdict on a Wednesday, when the show airs a new episode on a Thursday. That's why the ratings keep dropping.

But as I’ve said before, if this were on HBO, there’d be no doubt that everyone would be calling it the most important, most realistic, most astutely observed crime drama since Southland or perhaps even The Wire. If you have any interest in quality TV, this is the one American show you should be watching right now.

Barrometer rating: 0
Rob’s prediction: With these ratings, it’s unlikely to survive, so catch it while you can.

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Review: American Crime 1x1 (US: ABC)

Posted on March 12, 2015 | comments | Bookmark and Share

American Crime

In the US: Thursdays, 10/9c, ABC

Every so often, the American entertainment media decides it needs to make something Very, Very Important about race in America. Race and crime and drugs. Hopefully, in some sort of ensemble and/or anthology format. Something that’ll make up for not talking about them in an adult manner for the previous five to 10 years.

American Crime is such a Very, Very Important show and it really, really does know it. It is also quite important, too.

Following on from the likes of Crash and The Wire but without much by way of humanity, accessibility or humour, American Crime is a slow-moving, lovingly made, beautifully shot piece, filled with overlapping stories and fine actors, that you almost certainly know you should be watching but might well struggle to find the energy to do so, once you remember that the previous episode sucked all the joy of life from you.

Created by, written by and directed by John Ridley Jr (12 Years A Slave) and starring the likes of Timothy Hutton, Felicity Huffman and Penelope Ann Miller, it sees Hutton and Huffman’s war veteran son killed during an apparent burglary and his wife raped. Soon, a young Latino man is arrested, as is a black meth addict, and the racial battle lines are drawn, as the case proceeds. Except then the twists set in, muddying the waters.

Miserable already and the show only gets worse over the course of the first episode, as we see parents learn tragic things about their sons they’d rather not, people’s alcoholic pasts used as weapons against them, and lives destroyed. The script is thoughtful, giving us respectful, undramatic professionals, ranging from police to doctors to journalists, as well as drug addicts who are more than just their next fix, while refusing to make anything black and white – or simply Black and White. The acting’s first rate, in particular from Hutton, who it was possible to forget while watching Leverage was the youngest ever winner of an Oscar for supporting actor but who makes sure you know it here.

The trouble is that it’s a real struggle getting to the end of even this first episode. Hutton’s anguish is powerful, the bleakness of his and Huffman’s marriage horrifying, and while the drug addiction scenes never exactly hits the absolute misery of Requiem For a Dream, for example, they're about as close as network TV is going to get.

It’s also pretty slow-moving, with just the occasional implausibility to take you out of all the verisimilitude – why exactly are those drug dealers watching ABC’s Sunday night chickfest Revenge? Why do the other dealers have a copy of Country and Landscape to read? Yes, there’s three-dimensionality to characters, but there’s also downright unlikeliness.

The show does have some thoughtful things to say about race along the way. Huffman’s character, for instance, hears ‘Latino’ and automatically assumes that the suspect in her son’s murder is an illegal immigrant, even though he was born in the US and his father is a proud legal immigrant.

If you can force yourself to eat a regular dose of greens every week that not only will drain you and leave you feeling saddened and perhaps even frightened by the world but wants you to feel that way, too, American Crime is about as good a crime drama as you’re going to get. If not, you’ll be missing out, but I won’t blame you… because I might be joining you.

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What have you been watching? Including Strange Empire, Coverband, Electra, The Flash and Doctor Who

Posted on October 20, 2014 | comments | Bookmark and Share

It's "What have you been watching?", my chance to tell you what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently that I haven't already reviewed and your chance to recommend things to everyone else (and me) in case I've missed them.

The usual "TMINE recommends" page features links to reviews of all the shows I've ever recommended, and there's also the Reviews A-Z, for when you want to check more or less anything I've reviewed ever. And if you want to know when any of these shows are on in your area, there's Locate TV - they’ll even email you a weekly schedule.

You may have noticed I was playing epic catch-up on Saturday, in contravention of my normal rule of weekend blogging. So on top of Friday’s all out efforts and a couple of extra ones today, I’ve reviewed the following new shows, some of which have already been acquired for Blighty’s viewing pleasure:

Yay, me. No back log now. Time to have regular weekends again. Phew.

In fact, so ahead of myself am I that I’ll point out that ages ago, I reviewed NBC’s Constantine, which starts on Friday. Okay, it’s changed a bit since the pilot but you’ll get the general point.

But I’ve not stopped there. Oh no. Because I’ve also watched a New Zealand and a Canadian show just for luck. Okay, I was a bit behind on all of them, so I’ve only seen the first episode of each, but honestly, that felt like enough.

Strange Empire (Canada: CBC)
Set in the 1860s on the Alberta-Montana border, this sees three women (Cara Gee, Tattiawna Jones and Melissa Farman from Lost) band together for survival after virtually all the men in their town are murdered and those remaining behind battle for power. Very nicely made and already being described as the saviour of CBC, it's historically interesting but about as tedious as any other western, and none of the characters really grabbed me.

Coverband (New Zealand: TV One)
A one-hit wonder band reunite back in New Zealand years after they were famous. Unfortunately, the female lead singer was the one who was a success, leaving the terminally unsexy rest of the band to make it by themselves, something at which they fail miserably. Now having to deal with the pressures of normal lives and forced to do cover versions of other bands’ records, they suck completely until they stagecrashed by Laughton Kora, who shows them what rock charisma and singing really are, so they hire him. Kind of.

It’s an amiable and accurate enough show, based on cast member Johnny Barker’s own experiences as an Auckland cover band musician, and were there enough time in the world, I’d probably tune in for a few more episodes. But the show’s not so inspiring that I’ll throw something else aside for it and I’ve already seen The Wedding Band crash and burn, so I don’t think I need to see that happen again.

Unfortunately, New Zealand doesn’t want to produce any globally available videos of its own shows, apparently, so here’s a picture of the cast to tide you over.

Coverband

That's it for new new shows, but after the jump, I’ll be running through: Arrow, black-ish, The Blacklist, Doctor Who, The Flash, Forever, Gotham, Homeland, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, Plebs, Scorpion, Selfie and The Walking Dead.

But hey! Before you go, I should mention I went to the theatre, too!

Electra (Old Vic)
Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra, a new translation of Sophocles’ original text by Greek tragedy stalwart Frank McGuinness, music by PJ Harvey – what could go wrong? Well, not much actually, beyond a certain staticness to the direction, a slightly weak performance by Jack Lowden as Orestes and a very strange performance by Tyrone Huggins as Aegisthus. Other than that, a fine piece of work, surprisingly faithfully staged (although that’s not quite how Greek people prayed), with an outstanding performance by Thomas and a surprisingly funny text by McGuinness – in part to cover up for casting slightly older than originally written, but also to hide the unlikelihood of Electra not recognising Orestes. Liz White (Life on Mars) gives the best performance I’ve ever seen from her as Chrysothemis, Electra’s sister.  

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