American Crime: A Murder Mystery With Minimal Cop Presence

American Crime
Bill Records/ABC
American Crime

Winter Preview | Premieres Thursday, March 5, 10/9c, ABC

Cops don’t figure much into American Crime, ABC’s intense 11-episode ensemble drama about race, murder, and the United States justice system from Oscar-winning screenwriter John Ridley (12 Years a Slave). Sure, they investigate the killing of twentysomething Matt Skokie (Grant Merritt) and the rape of his wife, Gwen (Kira Pozehl), during a seemingly random home invasion in Modesto, California. They deliver bad news. They arrest people. But you barely see their faces. “American Crime is unique in that it doesn’t follow the investigation as the primary way of telling its story,” says Timothy Hutton, who stars as Matt’s dad, Russ. “It follows everyone else involved with the tragedy as the case develops.” Think Law & Order from the victims’ and the suspects’ points of view.

Drug-addled Aubry (Caitlin Gerard) clings to her African-American boyfriend, Carter (Elvis Nolasco), who is in possession of what’s believed to be the murder weapon. Hispanic high schooler Tony (Johnny Ortiz) assumes the worst thing he did the night Matt died was let a gangbanger joyride in the car belonging to his overly strict dad, Alonzo (Benito Martinez). Illegal immigrant Hector (Richard Cabral) flashes stolen credit cards. Gwen’s parents (Penelope Ann Miller and W. Earl Brown) push to keep their daughter’s assault out of the news. Russ assumes he knew everything about his son because they talked on the phone every Sunday. But he didn’t. His ex-wife, Barb (Felicity Huffman), is convinced that a minority killed her son just because. (“You see in her the history and the making of a racist,” says Huffman.) By the pilot’s end, four characters are arrested for Matt’s death–one as the alleged murderer and three as accessories. Racial unrest follows.

It’s undoubtedly a timely tale. “To have our show come out in the wake of Ferguson, or what’s going on in New York, is truly unfortunate,” Ridley says. “But our story also lines up with things that happened months and years ago. And there’s something very painful about realizing we’re not really moving away from all that.” The location, he adds, may change, but the story keeps repeating itself. “On American Crime, we’re not pretending to come at this as though we can answer any of the questions. But it’s important that [shows like this] keep asking them.”