Hitting the reset button on an acclaimed series can go in different directions, as evidenced by the second seasons of “Fargo” (terrific) and “True Detective” (not). ABC’s “American Crime” fell squarely into the former camp, buoyed by sensational performances and a twisty narrative, even if the finale didn’t quite measure up to all that preceded it.
Series creator John Ridley’s grim, spare and sobering series certainly possesses a premium-cable feel, and the ratings, frankly, have reflected those limitations. Although the template for using what amounts to a repertory of actors has been established in FX’s “American Horror Story,” the different roles for key players should only heighten appreciation of their talents, with season two producing an abundance of Emmy-worthy work.
In a way, the connective tissue for “American Crime’s” two runs – even more than a tragic series of events, steadily escalating situation and outwardly sedate suburban surface that hides explosive secrets – is the lengths to which parents will go on behalf of their children. If ABC once climbed the ratings heights with “Desperate Housewives,” think of this as “Desperate Parents.”
At the core of it all this time was the alleged rape of a high-school student, Taylor (Connor Jessup, in a stunningly nuanced turn), by Eric (Joey Pollari), a member of the school’s basketball team. Complicating the investigation was the fact that the two had exchanged flirty messages before the assault and that the revelations exposed their previously hidden sexuality.
As with the first season, a single event also laid bare rifts regarding class and race, and shattered illusions about some of these perfect, privileged children, who were, among other things, sexually predatory and dealing drugs. That led to the confused Taylor finally getting his hands on a gun, committing an act of violence that would end one young life and destroy another.
So much had already happened, frankly, that the finale (and SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t watched) was hard-pressed to adequately process and advance it. Beyond Taylor’s fate, the story (written by Diana Son, and directed by Nicole Kassell) raced around to deal with the fate and future of various adults drawn into the case, including the resourceful principal (Felicity Huffman), who somehow, cat-like, landed on her feet; the over-his-head basketball coach (Timothy Hutton); a caring teacher (Elvis Nolasco) at the nearby public school; and Taylor’s blue-collar mom (Lily Taylor) and the team captain’s mother (Regina King), all of whom paid a price, in one form or another.
Yet while it played a key role in the plot, the additional story of a computer hacker (Richard Cabral), who pilfered information from the Leyland Academy’s servers, felt a trifle half-baked and conveniently tacked on. And efforts to provide elements of closure for all of the aforementioned characters made the final hour somewhat rushed, which perhaps just seems more acute given how methodically — indeed, almost hypnotically — the series unfolded through the preceding hours.
Those are quibbles, however, in the broader context of a show that has been so consistently raw and real. Moreover, programs that oscillate between high-school-age and adult characters seldom do such a splendid job of capturing both groups, without turning the kids into precocious snots or their elders into the equivalent of Charlie Brown parents.
Appropriately, “Crime” ended by cutting back and forth between Taylor and Eric, whose tragic encounter set everything into motion. “Do you accept or reject that which has been presented to you?” the judge asked the former, referring to the plea bargain to which he had agreed, although the question lingered for both of them.
The hour ended without providing concrete answers. But by then, even taking into account the finale’s minor flaws, “American Crime” had quite eloquently made its case, once again, that a broadcaster can still lay claim to one of the best hours on television.