'American Crime' anthology series takes timely look at immigration in the wake of President Trump's election.
Regina King plays a dedicated social worker who tries to help victims of sex trafficking in ABC's 'American Crime.'(Photo: Nicole Wilder, ABC)
As always, American Crime is about more than one crime — and more than just crime.
The central criminal act is modern-day slavery, which provides the foundation for this third season of ABC’s sensational American Crime (Sunday, 10 ET/PT, **** out of four). Involuntary servitude is not the only crime the characters will confront, but it’s the one that unites and engenders all the rest: human trafficking, exploitation, prostitution — and ultimately, murder.
The second crime that creator and director John Ridley so insightfully examines affects not just his characters, but his viewers: The willful blindness they, and we, use to hide inconvenient truths. The first four episodes made available for preview are filled with people who know in their hearts what happens to the homeless teens they pass on the street or the migrant laborers they see working in the fields, but they refuse to learn more or take action.
And the third crime? The fact that no other broadcast network has a show that even approaches this scathingly unsentimental, unwavering series in terms of quality or courage. That's a minor crime in the grand scheme of things, but for viewers, a real one nonetheless.
Jeanette Hesby (Felicity Huffman), left, whose husband is part of a farm-owning family, talks to a man (Gabriel Lemus) about a trailer fire that killed undocumented workers on ABC's 'American Crime.' (Photo: Nicole Wilder, ABC)
Once again, Ridley has gathered the leading members of his repertory company and cast them in very different roles. It’s too soon to say how Timothy Hutton and Lili Taylor will fare as the married owners of a troubled North Carolina furniture business; they make their first, brief appearance in the fourth episode. But you’ll know after Sunday’s first hour that Benito Martinez, Connor Jessup, Richard Cabral, Regina King and Felicity Huffman are as reliably brilliant as ever — just as you’re likely to welcome the addition of Cherry Jones, Janel Moloney, Dallas Roberts, Ana Mulvoy-Ten, Tim DeKay and Sandra Oh to their ranks.
Two initially separate stories occupy them here. The first centers on Luis Salazar (Martinez), a Mexican worker whose search for his son leads him to a Carolina tomato farm. The second centers on Shae (Mulvoy-Ten), a teenage prostitute given shelter by a system that wants to use her against her pimp.
Each story also offers us another way in, through Shae's social worker (King) and the farm owner's wife (Huffman), whose subtle and yet unmistakable anguish over what she’s learning about her marriage and the source of her income is heartbreaking.
Luis Salazar (Benito Martinez), wearing a plaid shirt, becomes a farm laborer after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally as he searches for his son in ABC's 'American Crime.' (Photo: Nicole Wilder, ABC)
Through these multilingual characters we see a host of social ills, from the mistreatment of the migrant workers to the class divide among drug abusers. But Ridley and company never allow Crime to become an empty diatribe. There are real people suffering here, and Ridley never lets us lose sight of them.
That said, it’s not always easy to watch them. Crime is an intense viewing experience, one that's often purposely disorienting. The sound is often out of sync with the picture; the picture is often focused on what we would normally consider the “wrong” thing. It's a stylized way of telling the story, but it's always used to serve the story.
What you're left with is a wholly original series, one that yet again heads off in unexpected directions. It’s riveting, it’s important, and it demands to be seen.
Don’t look away.
photo of Review: Make time for this sensational, intense season of 'American Crime'
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