American Crime: Does ABC's Morally Gray Drama Hit Too Close to Home?

American Crime Premiere Review

There are some TV shows that have an innate ability to let us put aside our troubles, at least for one precious hour.

American Crime is not one of those shows.

On the contrary, the ABC drama — which was created and executive-produced by Academy Award winner John Ridley (12 Years a Slave) — tackles a number of heavy topics (murder, drugs and racial profiling, just to name a few) that have all been particularly prevalent in real-life headlines.

That invites the question: Will American Crime‘s timeliness turn viewers away, or pull them in? Before we get your answer to that query, let’s briefly go over the highlights of Thursday’s premiere.

Though American Crime‘s first hour is divided among three disparate relationships, each of them are connected by one mystery: the death of Matt Skokie, son of divorced couple Russ (Timothy Hutton, Leverage) and Barb (Felicity Huffman, Desperate Housewives).

As the police in Modesto, Calif. attempt to solve Matt’s murder (and the sexual assault of his wife, Gwen), we’re introduced to a few different players who may have been involved in the crime — but one of these things is not like the other. Although three of the suspects have a history of theft and drug abuse, the fourth — mild-mannered Hispanic teenager Tony Gutierrez — seems like he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, leading to his questionable arrest for Matt’s murder.

Then again, even the most innocent characters on American Crime have their secrets. Case in point: Matt was a drug dealer with highly dangerous business relationships, and Russ has a gambling addiction that ultimately ruined his marriage to Barb. (Though Barb does refer to all Hispanics as “illegals,” so she’s no snowflake either.)

As the episode goes on, it gets harder and harder to see the events of American Crime in black and white. Can you root for any of the characters? Should you? And, the most important question of all: Will you keep watching?

Grade the American Crime series premiere in our poll below, then hit the comments to back up your choice.

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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58 Comments
  1. It’s definitely a slow-burn that will get progressively faster & better as weeks go on. Excited. Fine performances all around.

  2. Joey says:

    I thought this was fantastic. Very emotionally gripping.

    I have one little issue with this article though: “Can you root for any of the characters? Should you?” Why can’t you? Because they have flaws? Russ has a severe gambling addiction, and Barb is super racist. That makes them all the more real as characters.

    On a lighter note, I didn’t even recognize a clean-shaven W. Earl Brown.

    • Imzadi says:

      Barb said she & her sons were forced to live in public housing after she left her husband. I’ll bet she had good reason for her racism. But I found her way over the top, and I usually love Felicity Huffman. There seemed to be more anger than sadness.

  3. Sean says:

    B-

    It was nearly as good as I was expecting it to be with all of he rave reviews and ABC’s copelling promos, but the acting was great and the ending was enough to keep me for at least the next few episodes.

  4. Tran says:

    I give it a C. Should get one season tops but it’s going up against Elementary & Allegiance in the 10 p.m. Thursday night time slot.

    • Alan says:

      The time slot is quite easy with big support from Scandal, and Elementary and Allegiance are both small.

    • mary says:

      Allegiance is now gone. And even though they’re moving Slap to that slot. No competition.

    • HAP says:

      What you watched is supposed to last one season. It is envisioned to be an anthology series similar to True Detective. If it gets renewed, there will be different crime, different cast.

  5. Jerome says:

    Booooring.

    • Joey says:

      This is most definitely a slow-burn show that requires patience to enjoy. Not sure what kind of shows you watch, but this definitely doesn’t seem like the one for you.

  6. Juan says:

    It was confusing at first but I slowly got more into it as it progressed and understood the plot by the end. Will definitely keep watching. Also I’m Hispanic and I was about to slap that lady for saying illegal as a description. Like you don’t even know and ita nor even necessary to describe them. I felt bad for the kid.

    • Joey says:

      Well, she’s definitely racist. There were the moments where she referred to “illegals” plus that other moment where she referred to other residents of public housing as “those people”, obviously referring to PoC.

      And then that scene where Tony got arrested just killed me. Both Johnny Ortiz, who plays Tony, and Benito Martinez who plays his father were great.

  7. Cheyenne says:

    Life is not black and white and neither is this show. I loved it.

  8. DJ says:

    Felicity Huffman was ah-mazing. So glad that she is back on TV.

  9. Great performances and has the makings to be a great show. As long as they stay away from making it political and one-sided, then if should make for compelling TV. So far, so good.

  10. Angela says:

    Yeeeeaaaaah, I was already cringing on Tony’s behalf when he started being interviewed at the station before his dad even got there. Scared, confused teenager being interrogated by detectives-that never ends well. I was mentally yelling at him to stay quiet until his dad got there.
    And the guy interrogating him rubbed me the wrong way, especially when he started presuming why it was that Mr. Gutierrez was the only parent at home. I’m definitely interested in what will happen with the Gutierrez family’s storyline-I like the dynamic being set up there with them, the generational expectations and so forth.
    And Barb. Hoo boy, her attitude sounds frighteningly familiar-I’ve known a few co-workers and family members who talk the way she does. Her constant need to play the victim with her life in general, as well as her insistence on making a big story out of what happened (the debate she had with Gwen’s parents over the media discussing the sexual assault was good…and I tend to side with Gwen’s parents on that one) had me cringing in a lot of ways…but I sympathize with her, too, ’cause, well, her son was murdered. Her grief is definitely genuine, even if the ways in which she’s displaying it are…eh. I’m really liking the dynamic between her and Russ-their argument along the side of the road was pretty intense, and I look forward to seeing how that plays out, too.
    And I KNEW there had to be something shady with Matt and Gwen. The moment Barb started going on with the whole thing about her son being responsible and having the perfect military career and the happy marriage and all that sort of thing, I knew there’d be some secrets lurking. Too many true crime shows with the whole “they seemed like the perfect couple/family” mantra. So, yeah, that’s going to get pretty intense soon, no doubt.
    Very interesting premiere. I’m in, I want to see where this goes.

  11. CM says:

    After 1/2 an hour we changed the channel.

    • mary says:

      If you start watching an anthology series, you need to know it’s going to be Slow-burning as another poster said. It’s like a 2 hour movie stretched. So you just watched 10 minutes.

    • LL says:

      what’s up with the annoying freeze frame thing that they do with the editing? What’s the point of that except to confuse the viewer?

  12. justsomeguy says:

    I was bored 20 minutes in. I can appreciate a slow burning story, but only after a show has firmly established itself. I think what the Blacklist is doing is a perfect example of a well done slow burning storyline between Keen and Reddington. For a pilot episode I thought this was a disaster.

  13. christine Zamora says:

    Gripping!!

  14. Ram510 says:

    Will American Crimes timeliness turn viewers away or pull them in? I think it’ll turn them away. This is the type of show that’s praised by critics but doesn’t catch on with viewers

  15. Robyn says:

    “Does ABC’s Morally Gray Drama Hit Too Close to Home?”

    I live in Modesto, California, so… yes. Literally. I will not be watching the rest of the series, however, as hearing and seeing “Modesto” everywhere is too weird.

  16. Mark says:

    Awesome show. Will continue to watch.

  17. jeff says:

    Show was good.but I unlike some people think the one part didn’t like most was felicity Huffman.

  18. Alice says:

    I thought it was excellent. It is a slow burn, but the performances held my attention. Felicity Huffman was tough to watch but so well observed, Timothy Hutton was heartbreaking and I loved their scenes together. Also give kudos to Benito Martinez and his son. I’ll be interested to see how many people stick with this, and if ABC does if the ratings end up being lower but the acclaim in there. They want cable content, but shows like The Wire were not exactly huge ratings grabbers.

  19. karen says:

    This is an excellent drama, more fitting for paid television rather than network because it doesn’t sugar coat. The characters from the parents (Huffman and Hutton) are excellent, although it is easy to despise Huffman’s character but that is good acting. To the dealers, wheelers, seeming innocents trying to do the right thing in a culture that will never accept them are superb. It is unlike anything I have seen on network that is comparable hopefully this type of programming will replace the tired, same ole “I” CS I’s; NCI’s and over-rated Blacklist; Elementary and please go away Law and Order. Based on just this first episode it is leaps and bounds above other network dramas. It is a real, raw, fresh look at American “crime”. I look forward to the next 10 episodes and I will definitely watch.

  20. Voice says:

    American Crime had me interested from the first clip with the phone call. I thought I might have it figured out and then another clue.
    Some shows are so predictable one can get bored. But not American Crime.
    The fact is, the program realistically portrays life. It allows us to sit back and contemplate ideas many of us may never have considered. Things that make us think deeply and maybe even feel uncomfortable at times but still tastfully done and interesting.
    I found myself engaged in the story line on the edge of my seat. Im not sure if I can wait a week till the next show!
    I’ve found a new series well written, exceptionally filmed and I’m going to tell others to watch.
    ABC you’ve got the next huge television drama! Don’t let it go.

  21. Imzadi says:

    The TV Guide article said that one of them will be released. I would imagine it’s the girl, who is most likely completely innocent of the crime.

  22. Dr. Phage says:

    I can appreciate the need to set the stage for a good drama, but the acting was so flat, and I was so bored by the first 20 minutes, that I changed the channel and watched something else. Broadchurch and HTGAWM also have slow burn, but in an interesting and exciting way. This is a no for me.

  23. Karen says:

    I didn’t like the show and Scandal was about another shooting… Too much!

  24. Ellinas1978 says:

    Don’t know if it grabbed me. Is this shot as a limited series with a set ending? Or is it looking for a subsequent season 2?

  25. Honey says:

    Very ordinary. Overdone. Will not invest my time in this drama

  26. Curly Girly says:

    What about the guy who was shot by the police? I definitely thought negatively of him when I first saw him, covered in tattoos and using the dead guy’s credit card. But after he was shot by the police (WITHOUT probably cause – he was running away from them and had no weapon) and was in the hospital, saying over and over again “Why’d they shoot me?”, I felt differently. Especially when he said “They shot me, because they don’t care.” That broke my heart a little. I think this show is definitely going to make people think twice about their preconceived notions of others. Well done!

  27. herman1959 says:

    After seeing the Scandal episode, I wasn’t really up for this, but I wanted to give it a chance. I had to turn it off when the Hispanic boy was taken in for questioning without being read his rights, having his father present, and in the absence of legal representation. I had a headache by that time; I won’t be watching again.

  28. Lee says:

    Being in the military, I am very much used to living and working in a diverse culture. It astounds me when I go back home to Alabama and am subjected to discrimination…or even by friends of mine on Facebook who seemingly don’t even know they are being racist. However, I want to say that it is always good for America to see itself in the mirror. We think that we’re doing fine until issues like Ferguson or NYC come up. Yes, race was involved in both cases, but turning around and creating the same type of violence doesn’t solve the problem. Maybe this show will give us a reference to how we can possibly remedy the situation. We have come a long way, but until we no longer fear walking into the “wrong” neighborhoods, we have a long way to go.

  29. Phil says:

    Anyone know why Felicity Huffman is wearing contacts for this role? Her oddly dark eyes are enough to make me not watch.

    • Jen says:

      I wondered the same thing, maybe to give her a more cold hearted appearance? Not sure but it was very noticeable that her eyes were not her natural colour.

  30. flower_petals says:

    didn’t watch, but every time I see Regina King, I think of and miss Southland. =(

  31. Anna says:

    important subject .But sadly, very slow and messy. Not sure, I want to see episode two

    • Carla says:

      I asked myself that same question! It must be related to her character…considering her obvious bias towards Latinos I’m inclined to think that Barb might have some self-hate there going on..

  32. Missy says:

    Surprised there are Hispanic characters in this show, finally. Racism is not directed towards only black people in this country. Yet those are the only stories you hear. Kudos to John Ridley. Thank you

  33. ? says:

    It was well written and well constructed, but the premise is just not that fresh or exciting or interesting. With so much excellent television out there that I already don’t have enough time for, I’m not sure that this show made a case for why I should care about it. It definitely wasn’t bad, but I don’t think I will be watching.

  34. LL says:

    I watched the first couple of episodes, but actually got bored at the end of episode 2. The show is devoid of any true life or joy. It’s too dour and self serious to seriously follow for an entire season. Maybe one character is sympathetic (the sister of the kid who was thrown into juvie), but everyone else is cloak is sadness

  35. Justin says:

    Boring as hell it’s way to slow no action and people just talking the whole damn time

  36. Janelle says:

    Absolutely think it’s interesting, great acting, filming and directing. Race issues take to the point of uncomfortable which is what makes it so interesting

  37. GArrie says:

    American Crime is a great platform to engage all Americans in reflection and conversation about how and why each of us have played major roles to support and help sustain America’s system of divide and conquer. Hopefully, this program can and will be used in schools across this nation to spark conversations in the hearts and minds of young people so that healing and truth can begin. Bravo to all who have helped to create such a show!! It is truly ground-breaking and introspective.
    Garrie

  38. Annie and Phil says:

    Excellent drama,excellent acting.My husband and I thoroughly enjoyed the series.

  39. Deborah says:

    Where could I see episode one again, please help me.
    This show lets us all see how the justice system tries to work
    I love how you show from all ethnic societies, religions and so much more also the way it is filmed.
    It’s just a really important show MOOnly

  40. Emileelee says:

    My husband and I are about 60% through the series. We’re both invested enough now that we plan to watch the whole series. We both think the acting is superb all around, but the storyline and characters are so dark and depressing.

    The only characters I like so far are the brother of the guy who died, and the single dad who owns the auto shop. I want to like his son, and I feel sorry for his son, but dang… I know his kids are both teens but I don’t understand why they’re so horrid to their father who is doing all he can to keep the family going. It’s painful to watch how they treat him.