Is Public Television Ready for The Wire?

American Crime is the closest any show on network television has come to The Wire. There, I said it. ABC’s new miniseries, by the hand of the Academy Award winner John Ridley (screenwriter of 12 Years a Slave), is one of the most interesting proposals of the year, visually and conceptually.

The first thing we notice after finishing up the pilot episode is how much just happened in those 40 minutes. In a show whose goal is to show the racial/political/criminal reality of the United States we could expect a pace similar to that Dickensian novel -we have heard of so much about- The Wire was. However, American Crime synthesizes in this first chapter material for a whole season, making it highly enjoyable (something we sometimes missed back in Baltimore).

The three main stories (a middle-class white deconstructed family, a latin father and his two sons, and a couple of “dope fiends”; not falling into stereotypes in any of them) intertwine perfectly taking shots at the same institutions that The Wire focused on more than ten years ago: the police department, the drug dealing scheme, the media, politics and some reviews have already tease the introduction of religion in the mix in the next episodes. And if all stories work is mainly because an excellent cast lead by Felicity Huffman (most of you will remember her for her role on Desperate Housewives) as a Sarah Palin-esque mother with already some Emmy buzz.

In addition, John Ridley makes an elegant job behind the cameras and proving he has some tricks up his sleeve. The use of jump cuts and sound bridges gives a constant illusion of dislocation and fragmentation as if we were not able to see the big picture, as if the fiction could not grasp the whole sense of community and something would be always left out, an impossibility to record reality from every angle. Moreover, some skillful long-take transitions and camera movements from confined spaces towards the outdoors (I’m thinking on the bar scene where Aubrey and Carter storm out of the bar and the argument between Barn and Russ in the car) reflect the difficult state of mind and instability of the characters.

It is true that American Crime may not have the stylistic and narrative ambition The Wire had but maybe a more mainstream formula is what a show with these characteristics needed not to be just another cult hit. Americans don’t have an excuse anymore to turn their heads from the truth.

J.

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