American Crime premiered this Thursday, from John Ridley, the writer of 12 Years a Slave, which I haven’t seen. But hot damn, if the writing in American Crime is any indicator, it has to be good.
The premier sets up the story pretty immediately with a murder, and a very nonchalant 911 call (“My neighbors are pretty much dead.” Pretty much? Are you poking them with a stick to make sure there, bud?). We walk through the first few days of the investigation and get into the basic stories of our key players. The American Crime premier was very “meet the family”, making sure we know who’s who before we get any deeper, but still managed to throw a few curves.
The Skokie Family
The dead guy is Matt, and his wife Gwen, is still alive but in critical condition after a home invasion. His father is Russ (Timothy Hutton), who throughout the episode is wearing the face of someone whose life is happening to him, and who can’t quite grab on for the ride.
And Barb (Felicity Huffman), is Matt’s mother and a basket of crazy-cakes. Seems like she’ll be one to watch. Her character could go the way of infuriating, but predictable run-of-the-mill insane or “Bomb the police station after bathing in pig blood” crazy.
The Gutierrez Family
Alonzo, the father, is doing his best to raise two kids, by himself, in a not-great area of Modesto, CA. He’s a mechanic, an immigrant who prides himself on having done things, in his words, “the right way”. He’s living in a world that clearly frightens him for his children, and that fear has bled into irrational prejudice. Early on, he tells an associate not to bring men with “gang tattoos” to drop cars off at his shop. His son, Tony, is arrested as a possible accomplice to the murder of Matt Skokie. There’s a girl, too, Jenny, but the most interesting thing she does the whole episode is paint her nails a truly unfortunate shade of pink.
“We think a hispanic guy with tattoos killed your son.”
CUT TO HISPANIC GUY WITH TATTOOS.
Hector seems pretty cut and dry the whole episode, but the writing is already too good to buy it completely. He’s the obvious choice for the murderer, or at least as an accessory, but they’re setting him up that way almost too deliberately. We get little hints that maybe he wants out of the situation he’s in? Or doesn’t? There’s definitely more here than the premier let on.
Carter and Aubrey
These were my favorite characters. For a couple of meth-heads living in a room barely big enough for a mattress, they have the sweetest story. They are very clearly damaged, both emotionally and physically, but they love each other. The walls in their apartment are plastered with magazine ads of interracial couples, and the way they relate is tender. I couldn’t get a good read on Aubrey. She seems so wilting-flower for most of the episode, and in the last shot of her, after Carter is taken to jail on suspicion of murder, she’s being asked if the bruises on her face are from Carter. Instead of giving an answer, she gives the most defiant, “fuck you” of a smile imaginable.
There’s also our cops, but they aren’t all that fleshed out, even the one with the name, who is kind of an ass-hat.