'American Crime' season three premiere continues to compel

Sunday, March 19, 2017 - 5:20pm

NOSELL

ABC

 

When I wrote about “American Crime” at the beginning of its second season, I had no idea where the story was going, but I still said there were no other shows that tackled its thematic material with as much intelligence and gravity. As the second season progressed, that continued to be true. The season built its characters and its story, and pulled off some truly shocking twists (like the brilliant scene at the end of “Episode 7” in which a character shoots a former classmate at the school). There’s nothing to suggest that season three will do anything differently. It’s taking on a new but no less compelling set of themes with a different group of characters and a completely new story. The premiere is saddled with a significant amount of setup, but it seems like the payoff will be worth sitting through the legwork.

The third season takes place in Alamance County, North Carolina. It follows a group of people who are trying to get by, despite their situation. In the premiere, Luis (Benito Martinez, “House of Cards”) crosses the border and moves into his work at a farm in North Carolina. Meanwhile, Issac (Richard Carbral, “Southland”) tries to recruit Coy (Connor Jessup, “Falling Skies”), a drug-addicted, poor man to work at the farm. Also, we see the underage Shae (Ana Mulvoy-Ten, “CSI: Cyber”) work as a prostitute.

Within these stories are powerful themes that the show looks to explore with deftness and poise. Not only does this season talk about illegal immigration, it also deals with child sex trafficking and drug addiction. Each one of these issues has had its moment in the political spotlight recently, especially illegal immigration. As president Donald Trump begins to crack down on illegal immigration in the US, the story the show is telling about Luis takes on increasing relevance. During the premiere, he’s placed at a farm for work and is told he owes a major debt to the people who brought him to North Carolina. It's clear the show has something to say on these subjects, and I'm looking forward to watching the show explore these ideas.

“American Crime” ’s ensemble remains one of the best on television. This season, the show brought back many of the stars of last season and added a couple big stars as well. Regina King (“The Leftovers”), who won an Emmy for both seasons of work, plays a social worker who tries to help out the kids involved in the sex trafficking case. She spends a lot of the premiere setting up her character, but the role is ripe with opportunities to grow. Jessup, who was a pleasant surprise as Taylor last year, is another actor with a character with a lot of potential. Cherry Jones (“24”) and Tim DeKay (“White Collar”) are the show’s biggest additions, playing a brother and sister who are running a financially-strapped farm.

My biggest criticism for the premiere is that it spends so much time setting up the characters and their roles that it doesn’t clearly lay out the arcs for the season. It introduces who the people are and the role they play in the county, but I can’t say where the story is going and how the show is going to explore its themes. “Crime” is using world-building rather than story to introduce its season. Still, I trust that showrunner John Ridley (who won an Oscar for “12 Years a Slave”) knows what he’s doing and will explore this world to its fullest potential.

Last year, “American Crime” was one of the best shows to air on TV. It explored difficult material with grace and composure. This year appears to be no different. With compelling characters and relevant thematic material, “Crime” looks like it’s going to maintain that crown this season.