American Crime’s sophomore season doesn’t disappoint

Heidi Roenisch

Returning for its second season, ABC’s “American Crime” cements itself as one of the best dramas on network television, balancing strong acting with deft exploration of heavy subject matter, though occasionally becoming mired in its own over-ambition.

This season’s episodes take place in a small town in Indiana where several star basketball players allegedly rape a boy from their school. The story follows how they deal with the repercussions of their actions within their community. The exact details of the incident are intentionally left ambiguous, which can be frustrating at times, but ultimately adds realism to the plot because rape is usually one person’s word against another, with little hard evidence.

This storyline has proved especially relevant, as three high school basketball players in Tennessee were recently charged with the rape of a freshman teammate after a team overnight trip on Dec. 21. They could also potentially be charged with three more counts of sexual assault on other teammates. This connection gives the show a feeling of urgency, as it becomes clear that it could be taking place anywhere in the country and is not purely fiction.

Photo courtesy of ABC
Kevin Lacroix is the captain of the basketball team and threw the party where the alleged rape occurred. 

Expectations were high after the success of season one, which was nominated for 10 Emmys and three Golden Globes, and season two proves early on that it is worth the hype.

The series follows the increasingly popular anthologic format of having each season be a self-contained story, recently done by “True Detective,” “American Horror Story,” and “Fargo.” This suits the show well, allowing it to cover the most prominent and relevant issues at the time and also have a sense of resolution at the end of each season, rather than dragging out an idea over multiple seasons.

Photo courtesy of ABC
Timothy Hutton plays Dan Sullivan, the basketball coach at Leyland High School. 

The core of the show consists of Felicity Huffman, Timothy Hutton, and Regina King returning from the first season, though in different roles. These three provide some of the strongest acting on the show and help to elevate the other actors to their level.

Huffman portrays private school headmistress Leslie Graham with an excellent pseudo-sincerity that shows her concern for the well being of the students—until it interferes with the reputation of her school.  

Regina King plays the mother of Kevin Lacroix, one of the boys accused of rape, and her performance as an overbearing yet dedicated parent is very realistic. She blindly defends her son in public, while privately berating him for the smallest mistakes. After Kevin has the winning assist in a basketball game, her only response is, “Why did you pass up the shot?”

However, “American Crime” occasionally has too big of a scope. In the first two episodes alone, race relations, socioeconomic disparity, social issues experienced in high school, sexual orientation and rape have all been key issues. While I understand the intent is to mimic the complexity of real crime, such a broad scope proves overwhelming and therefore has less of an impact.

Another flaw in the show is the distinctly self-impressed style of cinematography. Director John Ridley often uses strange angles and jumpy cuts as if to show how creative he is with the camera, when the result instead distracts from key dialogue.

Overall, the show attempts to tackle the vast topic of crime, and while it occasionally falters in the face of such complexity, far more it often provides a thoughtful, well-acted insight into society.

“American Crime” airs Wednesday nights at 9 p.m on ABC.