Crime and pun­ish­ment

Amer­i­can Crime looks at crime in a whole new light, ex­am­in­ing the way we see the good, the bad and the for­saken.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - What To Watch - S. INDRAMALAR

WE watch tele­vi­sion to make us feel good, largely. Whether it is a sit­com where we can mind­lessly laugh along with the char­ac­ters, a drama which we can get lost in via some­one else’s ex­cit­ing (or tragic) life or even a doc­u­men­tary where we can learn some­thing new or be in­spired. Amer­i­can Crime

isn’t a feel-good show. But, it’s darn good tele­vi­sion and one show that should not be missed. And, with only eight episodes a sea­son – fea­tur­ing a strong cast of both ex­pe­ri­enced ac­tors like Felicity Huff­man, Regina King and Ti­mothy Hut­ton as well as up-and­com­ing stars like Ana Mul­voy-Ten and Con­nor Jes­sup – there is even less rea­son not to watch it. (12 Years Cre­ated by John Ridley A Slave, Third Watch),

this an­thol­ogy se­ries is a sear­ing ex­plo­ration of is­sues like race, so­cial class, poverty, hu­man in­dif­fer­ence and prej­u­dice. It of­fers a dif­fer­ent take on crime – not the usual cops and rob­bers pro­ce­dural we’ve been fed but an ex­am­i­na­tion of the ef­fect crime has on all the peo­ple in­volved: the per­pe­tra­tors, the vic­tims along with their fam­i­lies and friends, as well as on so­ci­ety.

Every sea­son fo­cuses on one ma­jor crime. Sea­son One fo­cused around a home break-in that went wrong which led to the real sub­ject of the story: drug ad­dic­tion and racial pro­fil­ing. The se­cond sea­son was about bul­ly­ing and school vi­o­lence and this third sea­son fo­cuses on the ex­ploita­tion of mi­grant work­ers and chil­dren.

By putting the lives of all the peo­ple in­volved un­der a mi­cro­scope, the show re-ex­am­ines our per­cep­tions of what’s right and wrong and our con­cept of guilt, in­no­cence and jus­tice.

In do­ing so, Ridley also un­cov­ers that the root cause of the crime com­mit­ted, more of­ten than not, is a long, un­for­tu­nate trail of bad choices, bad luck and bad cir­cum­stances. Some­times peo­ple just don’t have con­trol of their own lives and no mat­ter how they try, they seem doomed to have a bad end­ing.

Don’t get me wrong, the show doesn’t ab­solve any­one from their wrong­do­ings but it forces us to stop see­ing things as black and white. It also forces us to look within, for what we do or don’t do that can have an im­pact on the lives of the dis­ad­van­taged.

While pun­ish­ment for crime is very nec­es­sary, a mes­sage on re­peat from the show is how preven­tion is so much more valu­able.

In all three sea­sons, the crimes that are cen­tral to the sto­ries aren’t re­mark­able: a break-in, school vi­o­lence and a float­ing dead body. In real life, th­ese cases of­ten don’t make the news, even. But the sto­ries are raw and the char­ac­ters are so com­pli­cated, im­per­fect and well fleshed out, you can’t come away from an episode, let alone a sea­son, un­moved.

Sea­son Three be­gins with a 911 call re­port­ing a dead body in a river which then opens up the sto­ries of sev­eral of this sea­son’s main char­ac­ters who lead un­re­lated lives but whose fates in­ter­sect at some point.

One story cen­tres around Luis Salazar (Ben­ito Martinez), a Mex­i­can who crosses the border il­le­gally in search of his son. He ar­rives at Hensby Farms where his son was em­ployed, and gets him­self a job as a crop picker there in or­der to lo­cate his son. Day by day, Luis wit­nesses with hor­ror how the work­ers are ex­posed to all man­ner of abuse by the farm crew and he gets in­creas­ingly des­per­ate to find his son.

Mean­while, the fam­ily-owned farm is strug­gling to keep afloat and is run by fam­ily ma­tri­arch Laurie Ann (Cherry Jones) who will do any­thing to save the busi­ness which in­cludes ex­ploit­ing the labour and forc­ing them to live un­der de­plorable con­di­tions. When a fire breaks out in the work­ers’ quar­ters, Laurie Ann’s sis­ter-in-law Jeanette (Felicity Huff­man) sees for the first time how badly the work­ers have been treated and is torn up about it.

She im­plores her hus­band (Dal­las Roberts) to do some­thing about it but he is re­luc­tant to stand up to his sis­ter and tells his wife to stay out of it. Jeanette strug­gles to do the right thing but isn’t sure if she can bear the cost.

An­other story fol­lows 17-yearold Shae Reese (Mul­voy-Ten), a teenage run­away caught up in the seedy un­der­belly of sex traf­fick­ing.

Shae was sex­u­ally abused by her fa­ther. She ran away but ended up do­ing sex work with dreams of some­day set­ting up a home with her pimp. As ex­posed as she has been to how harsh life can be, Shae re­mains a dreamer who be­lieves in her hap­pily ever af­ter.

Even when her pimp gets ar­rested and she is sent to a home, Shae re­mains hope­ful.

For­mer Nick­elodeon star Mul­voy-Ten is surely the break­out star this sea­son with her poignant por­trayal of young Shae.

Regina King (who won two Emmy awards for her work in the se­ries), plays so­cial worker Ki­mara Wal­ters who helps Shae as well as a run­away worker from the Hensby farms – one of the ways the sto­ries in­ter­sect.

The sub­ject mat­ter is heavy but the sto­ries de­velop slowly enough for us to take it all in. Each episode ends with some­thing for us to think about be­fore the next one comes along, which then gives us some­thing more to chew on. And so on and so forth.

If you in­vest in this se­ries (and you re­ally should), you have to know that there are no free passes. Every episode is un­set­tling and will ques­tion how you see your own life. And if you think your life could do with­out such heavy con­tent, you’re wrong be­cause there isn’t any­thing like this on TV and, this be­ing the last sea­son, there may never be.

Amer­i­can Crime Sea­son Three airs Thurs­days at 10.30pm on Fox Crime HD (Hyp­pTV Ch 610).

— Pho­tos: Handout

Jeanette Hesby (Huff­man) may just rep­re­sent the ev­ery­man who has tough choices to make about stand­ing up to in­jus­tice.

Nick­elodeon star Mul­voy-Ten (right) shines in her por­trayal of run­away teen, Shae, in the third sea­son of Amer­i­can Crime.

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