Mike Brown was killed in Ferguson almost 3 years ago. Although he was not the first, his death combined with the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin, sparked the Black Lives Matter movement. Since then, the issue of police shootings has been a touchy one and while other television shows have tried to address this complex issue in an episode or two, Shots Fired is the first network television show that has tackled police brutality over the course of a series. The ten-episode series follows investigator Ashe Akino (Sanaa Lathan) and attorney, Preston Terry (Stephan James, Selma) as they head to North Carolina to find out the truth behind an officer-involved shooting. Shots Fired flips the script on its audience because the officer involved in the shooting is black while his victim is white.
Officer Belk, played by Tristan Mack Wilds, is a young, black rookie cop who shoots a white kid, who he thought was suspicious because he was in a black neighborhood (sound familiar?). The other officers, especially his superior, Officer Breeland (Stephen Moyer, True Blood), rally around him and tell him to stick to the script; that the suspect was acting erratic and he feared for his life. Meanwhile, the federal government sends in Terry and Akino because if this Black officer goes to jail, it will look better if a Black investigator and attorney send him there.
The show sets up a lot in its first hour. Lathan’s Akino is a hard-nosed investigator who goes after the bad guys even if they’re wearing blue. But she’s also an alcoholic, self-destructive, and covers her insecurities with sex. Stephan James’s Terry is a former athlete turned attorney who’s hungry and ambitious, and wants to distinguish himself from his older brother (Shamier Anderson, Wynonna Earp) who managed to make it to the big leagues.
The show sets up lots of gray areas for this case. Officer Belk seems like a good guy who is remorseful about taking a life, but he also wants to save his own ass. The introduction of a past victim points to a pattern of corruption in the police department which could prove problematic. And there’s an activist preacher (Aisha Hinds, Underground) looking to use this shooting to bring attention to the police department’s dirty dealings. There’s a lot to deal with and the show has nine more episodes to make their case. Although there are areas where Shots Fired can be more nuanced, they have time to really dig into this issue and take these characters beyond two-dimensional stereotypes. But only time will tell.
The show got off to a strong start despite some cheesy lines and simple characterization. Some of the characters are very two-dimensional, but they can flesh them out over the course of the season. One thing I really hope is addressed is that often when an officer of color is involved in a shooting they are investigated thoroughly and found guilty while the same can’t always be said of white officers. So far with the introduction of an additional victim, it looks like this case could be the tip of the iceberg, but it would be a shame to get to the end of the season and have only the Black officer pay for his crimes. Shots Fired is perfectly cast and stacked with good actors. If the writing continues to add depth and color, this show could turn out to be a great limited series.
Shots Fired S1E1
"Hour One: Pilot"
Starring: Sanaa Lathan, Stephan James, Stephen Moyer, Tristan Mack Wilds, Jill Hennessey, Helen Hunt, Aisha Hinds