Roush Review: ‘Shots Fired’ Is Provocative, Yet Predictable

Shots Fired - Stephan James, Sanaa Lathan
Fred Norris/FOX
SHOTS FIRED, L-R: Stephan James and Sanaa Lathan

Hot-button issues don’t come more volatile than the one presented in the dramatically uneven Shots Fired. The 10-part event series opens in the grim wake of an African-American cop’s shooting of an unarmed white college student in a racially divided North Carolina town. Before you can say “Ferguson,” the Department of Justice enlists two persons of color—feisty investigator Ashe Akino (sultry Sanaa Lathan) and Ivy League Special Prosecutor Preston Terry (Stephan James)—to put a lid on this potentially explosive situation. The optics are not accidental.

Reminiscent of the Oscar-winning In the Heat of the Night, though more about the heat of this current moment in society, Shots locks Ashe and Preston into a prickly partnership—her skeptical opening line is, “So you their boy?”—that’s greeted by local hostility from all sides. Their mission is further clouded when they become aware of another recent police shooting, of a local black youth, which didn’t attract nearly as much media or federal attention. You wouldn’t be wrong to suspect a cover-up where grieving mothers are used as political pawns.

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“Why do I feel a sermon coming on?” Preston quips to the confrontational Pastor Janae James (the terrific Aisha Hinds, who’s also appearing as Harriet Tubman in the new season of WGN America’s Underground). He’s one to talk. Preppy Preston embodies the series’ tendency toward preachiness, insisting, “All I care about is the truth, and the truth has no color,” which might have more sting if James weren’t so colorless in his no-burn delivery.

Lathan is much more effective as a sensual firebrand of a pot-stirrer with anger issues. Ashe wants to dig for answers, regardless of blowback from a governor (Helen Hunt) who declares, “I’m not a fan of surprises.”

Which is another problem. Though the subject matter is powerfully provocative, the plotting is a bit too predictably black and white in its depiction of a corrupt sheriff’s department whose cronies include Richard Dreyfuss as a wealthy and connected real-estate developer (today’s go-to villain). And just when things get explosive, the story sends Ashe back home to deal with a custody dispute. I wanted to protest.

Shots Fired, Series Premiere Wednesday, March 22, 8/7c, Fox