From its opening scene, where a policeman shoots a young man dead in a North Carolina town, Shots Fired dives knee-deep into racism.
In the US, where the murder of one person by another is made even more toxic by the colour of everybody’s skin, this new FOX series will touch a raw nerve. In Australia, where the 10 part drama will screen on Showcase, the very deed itself heavily outweighs questions related to class and race.
But as Special Prosecutor Preston Terry (Stephan James) is told, “The (Governor) doesn’t want another ‘Ferguson’. It’s a black cop, and a white kid.
As an African-American prosecutor, he is hired to investigate the shooting a young white man by a black police officer.
“In this climate only a black man could indict this black cop without inciting tensions if he’s guilty.”
“All I care about is the truth,” says Terry.
Assisting him is investigator Ashe Akino (Sanaa Lathan), who is already dealing with her own broken marriage and aggressive temper.
Parachuted into this small town by Governor Patricia Eamons (Helen Hunt), the duo are given short shrift by both the African-American community and the local police constabulary, headed up by Sheriff Daniel Platt (Will Patton) and steered by Officer Breeland (Stephen Moyer).
But the righteous Terry and Akino soon discover that resentment runs much deeper, particularly given a previous murder of an African-American youth was largely ignored. The smell of corruption hangs over this community like a stench.
But unlike dramas such as The Night Of, which affix our sympathies to possible suspects, Shots Fired follows the heroic path of our crime-solvers in ‘foreign’ territory. Amid social themes which threaten to weigh down a whodunnit, our two leads are thankfully strong. Stephan James is especially strong as an articulate young prosecutor with a case that could make his career, while Sanaa Lathan juggles authority with her flawed private life.
It’s great to see Helen Hunt back on screen, as a Governor seeking re-election here and I hope she is given more dramatic weight than is evident in early episodes. Richard Dreyfuss adds to a formidable cast, as local real estate mogul, Arlen Cox.
Writers Gina Prince-Bythewood (Before I Fall, The Secret Life of Bees, Biker Boyz) & Reggie Rock Bythewood (Reflections, Notorious, Gun Hill) craft a community that has learned to live with its secrets, in order to expose deep-seated home-truths in America. A few of the tropes are readily-familiar from others in the genre and I’m not entirely convinced this will be quite the ‘must-see’ event here as that in its own market.
Nevertheless it opens confidently, and holds a mirror up to an American problem that has exacerbated in recent years and could well become worse in its new political climate.
Shots Fired premieres 8:30pm Monday April 10 on Showcase.