Ever wonder how well you know your children? In the new seriesAmerican Crime, screenwriter and director John Ridley has the answer: You don’t. In the end, parenting is a mystery and you try to teach your kids to be good citizens and keep them safe.
The series, which premieres on CTV/ABC Thursday night at 10 p.m. ET, is told from the perspective of several parents. It begins with the murder of an Iraq war veteran and the sexual assault of his beauty queen wife.
That war veteran’s parents, Barb and Tom, (Felicity Huffman and Timothy Hutton), soon learn their son may have actually been a drug dealer. Neither parent is a model citizen either. Tom lost the couple’s money years ago due to a gambling addiction, which forced Barb to raise their two sons in a housing project. She is racist. Both are hell-bent on finding who killed their son.
There are several murder suspects. It could be the biracial couple/meth heads who paper their filthy apartment with magazine tear sheets of biracial models. Or maybe it’s widower Alonzo’s (Benito Martinez) sweet-faced son, Tony. When we first meet Tony, played by a doe-eyed Johnny Ortiz, he’s digging into a bowl of cereal and riffing with his dad about his teenaged sister’s boyfriend. Father and son have a bond but there’s friction because Alonzo is always so strict and scared about his children’s future. He doesn’t want them getting caught up with Mexican gangs.
When Tony is hauled to jail for questioning, Alonzo demands he tell the police the truth. It’s a heartbreaking scene of trusting the legal system and it doesn’t lead where you’d hope or expect. Through Alonzo, Ridley explores the subject of parents protecting children.
“As most parents do, they want to make sure their kids are honest, tell the truth and have respect for authority. At the same time there are moments when you can be a little too truthful,” says Ridley, who won a best screenplay Oscar for 12 Years a Slave. “You need to put your kids and family first and not be so trusting. It’s different for people of a different socioeconomic class or those who are embedded in society in different ways.”
Ridley hinted that the 11-episode series might end on an upbeat note. “To get to a place of hope it’s certainly not easy. It’s not easy for these individuals. It’s not easy for families in the best of circumstances,” he said. “They have to do everything they can to remain together as a unit to make sure they are there for everyone. That’s what I wanted to explore and that’s what we get to.”
In addition to the parents’ perspective, what sets this TV series apart is that families of all colours and faiths are represented. “Our world is complex and complicated,” Ridley said. “I definitely wanted to reflect the world we live in.”
Ridley, a father of two, joked his two kids will never watch American Crime because there are no robots in it. But you might understand your children a bit better after watching this nuanced and disquieting series.