Last season, ABC proved it could outmatch FX and HBO when it came to the anthology drama, with the superb first season of American Crime. The second season premieres at 10 p.m. Wednesday.
Unlike HBO's True Detective, which reached dizzying heights of sublimity in its freshman year only to crash and burn in mediocrity the following season, American Crime returns with an equally powerful, compelling, and intelligent story.
Created, written, and directed by Oscar-winning writer John Ridley (12 Years a Slave), the drama tackled murder and drugs last year. This time, it focuses on teenage sex, bullying, and sexual identity at a private high school. It has an openness, realism, and frankness that's refreshing, even shocking for viewers used to the double talk and saccharine sentimentality that sheaths those topics elsewhere on TV.
ABC provided critics with the first four of 10 episodes, all equally stunning.
Connor Jessup (Falling Skies) stars as Taylor Blaine, a scholarship student at a private Chicago high school. His desperate attempts to fit in are usually met with derision. Blaine is suspended after photos circulate showing him half-naked, drunk, and out of control at a party.
He tells his mom (a terrific Lili Taylor) a different story, contending that he was drugged and raped by members of the basketball team.
The narrative takes a winding, twisting path as different players try to control the narrative. For the principal (Felicity Huffman), everything comes down to damage control. She'll sacrifice individual students in the name of her institution's stability and profit-making power.
Timothy Hutton is brilliant as the concerned, sensitive basketball coach. He tries to protect his team, to believe them innocent of committing any kind of sexual violence. At the same time, he and his wife (Hope Davis) are increasingly disturbed by the kind of sexual activity considered normal by their teenage daughter and her peers.
They find out, to their horror, that girls who attend the basketball party are expected to have sex with at least one, usually several, teammates.
For his part, Jessup is impressive as Taylor Blaine, whose story is filled with holes. Does that mean he's lying about the attack? Or is he hiding a deeper secret?
Watch the first episode, and you'll be hooked.