American Crime: the first must-watch TV show of 2016

The second season unfurls after a poor boy at a posh private school accuses the basketball team captain of sexual assault – taking on issues of race, class and politics to riveting effects

How can I convince you to watch American Crime, which starts its second season Wednesday 6 January at 10pm EST on ABC?

What if I told you that you don’t need to have seen the first season to tune in tonight because it tells an entirely different story unrelated to last year’s events? What if I told you that last year’s tale about a robbery and murder of a young couple in working-class California was one of the freshest and most interesting things on television as a whole and network television especially? What if I told you that season two is even better than that?

What if I told you that this season is about whether or not a boy named Taylor (Connor Jessup), a poor kid attending a tony private school in the Chicago suburbs, was sexually assaulted by the captain of the school’s championship basketball team? What if I told you that one accusation has a ripple affect across the community calling into question ideas about race, equality, sexual identity, education, politics and gender? What if you knew that it holds a shocking mirror up to our own society where stories like Rolling Stone’s fabricated story about a rape on a college campus are still a huge part of the narrative surrounding sexual assault?

Will that lure you in? What if you knew that underappreciated character actress Lili Taylor, who played a victims’ rights activist in the first season, gets an expanded role playing the boy’s mother and just absolutely knocks it out of the park? What about knowing that Felicity Huffman deserves an Emmy for playing the shark of a headmistress at the school or that Regina King, who already won an Emmy for her role last season, deserves some sort of special award for bringing the same honest ferocity to playing a tough parent of one of the basketball players as she did to her outstanding work on the second season of The Leftovers? Or how about learning that Oscar winner Timothy Hutton is having an amazing second act on this show, this time playing the school’s basketball coach?

Do you need to know that John Ridley, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of 12 Years a Slave, masterfully writes (and partially directs) the show? Do you need to know that it’s as narratively and cinematically inventive as shows like The Sopranos, The Knick, The Wire and Six Feet Under? What about that scene in the first episode where Taylor fights with her son in his bedroom but it’s filmed from the still confines of her living room? How amazing was that? Oh wait, you’ll have to tune in to find out.

What if you are a fan of all the true crime dramas that are getting so much attention right now, like The Jinx, Making a Murderer and Serial? Will it help to know this has as much ambiguity as all those other yarns, even if it is ficitional? It might be made up, but doesn’t that give it an element that somehow allows it to really get at the truth better than a documentary? It’s not about one specific crime (even though it is), it’s about all of us, right?

Do I need to remind you of all of those brilliant shows that we never watched until it was too late and they got cancelled? Should I trot out the likes of My So-Called Life, Friday Night Lights, and Freaks and Geeks and remind you of their fate? What if I told you that this was even better, that each episode leaves you wondering just who the heroes and villains really are and questioning how you would react if put in the characters’ shoes?

Felicity Huffman and Timothy Hutton in American Crime.
Felicity Huffman and Timothy Hutton in American Crime. Photograph: Bill Matlock/Getty Images

Maybe I just need to tell you that if we don’t support the network’s making great prestige television that they’ll stop doing it and we’ll just be trapped with NCIS: Cleveland and four cycles of The Voice every gosh darn year? How about I remind you that this is not American Crime Story, the forthcoming FX show about OJ Simpson? I can’t promise you that’s any good, but I know for sure this one is.

What will it take? Will I have to pay you? Will I have to promise you that the winning Powerball numbers are somehow hidden in code in each episode? Should I tell you that if you watch, a unicorn will show up your door and you can pet it? I could suggest that Kate Upton wears a tight sweater in each episode, but that would be a lie, or would it? How about if I promise that if the show gets renewed for a third season Barack Obama has personally pledged to deport Ricky Gervais?

Have I convinced you? Because if you’re not watching this show, not only are you doing yourself a disservice, but you’re just ruining great television for everyone. If guilt works, I’ll take it, because if I’ve learned anything from American Crime, it’s that we’re all guilty, especially when we don’t act.


Brian Moylan

The GuardianTramp

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