FOX’s new drama offers a more thoughtful take on the crime and punishment procedural.
American remakes of British television shows haven’t earned the best reputation despite a few gems over the years. The newest series to make it successfully across the pond, FOX’s new crime drama, Accused, does so with a premise you just can’t mess up.
Though the title might suggest standard procedural fare, Accused is actually an anthology series. Based on the BBC show of the same name, each episode centers around a topical but fictional crime and examines the motives of the accused and victims alike. It’s a surprising and welcome choice for FOX as a network, injecting something different into its primetime lineup.
A slate of made-up crimes is, quite frankly, a breath of fresh air after the recent glut of drama miniseries based on true crimes. The first episode, starring Michael Chiklis (The Shield), centers around a father who’s concerned his teen son (Oakes Fegley) may be a potential school shooter.
The teleplays are lively and fast-paced, with well-drawn characters and some fun twists and turns. That said, the scripts aren’t exactly subtle. For example, the premiere uses a repeating home video clip of the violent teen’s older brother saying, “Maybe he’s broken…” repeatedly. In general, the dialogue is very on the nose, at times almost comically so. That’s understandable in an anthology series, however, when there’s only about forty-five minutes to tell a complete story.
Still, even in the weaker moments, the show is borne aloft by a stellar cast. Both Chiklis and Jill Hennessy, playing his wife, bring wonderful sensitivity and nuance to their roles as troubled parents in the first episode. The anthology cast also includes other television darlings, including Robert Wisdom, Abigail Breslin, Margo Martindale, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Wendell Pierce, Rachel Bilson, Rhea Perlman, Betsy Brandt, Keith Carradine, Aisha Dee, and Jason Ritter.
The show’s overall look is utilitarian, though reminiscent of current trendy true crime series. A noticeable blue color grading sometimes makes the show look like a fan-made Tumblr .gif set from the mid-2010s. For the most part, though, it gets the job done. Each episode has at least a few shots that are noticeably good-looking or strikingly framed. Additionally, there’s some beautiful use of outdoor locations that keeps the show from feeling too penned in despite the relatively small scope of the stories. It would be nice to see the seriesdevelop a stronger point of view going forward, both narratively and visually. Something more along the lines of the ambitious visual style of shows like HBO’s Landscapers, for instance, would be a boon.
Accused is never crass or cruel, seemingly earnestly striving to present nuanced takes.
Of course, since this is network television, none of the violent acts the stories center around are depicted graphically. Accused is a show you could easily throw on for an episode or two without getting too upset. That’s precisely the double-edged compliment it sounds like. While it’s doubtful the series would benefit from the CSI treatment in including graphic descriptions of horrible crimes, some dramatic moments don’t pack quite the wallop they could. This is especially the case when contrasted with other anthology shows like Black Mirror or even Shudder’s Tales from the Crypt.
Still, if you’re looking for a gory crime drama, there are certainly plenty of other options. This reviewer was glad that The Accused’s stories didn’t create spectacle out of the suffering of real victims and their families. Yes, the subjects are “ripped from the headlines,” but only in the loosest sense. If that means the show sometimes feels a little false, so be it. The show’s directors, who include Marlee Matlin, Tazbah Chavez, Billy Porter, and Chiklis himself, are clearly trying to handle the social issues depicted with sensitivity.
Accused is never crass or cruel, seemingly earnestly striving to present nuanced takes. How successful it is in that pursuit may vary from episode to episode. So far, it doesn’t seem like the show has any particularly ground-breaking perspectives. But that’s not a major knock against it. It’s not reinventing the wheel, but at least it’s not out-and-out copaganda like so many other crime-focused television shows.
Interestingly, even though the crimes depicted aren’t real, the episode structure makes for a very podcast-like viewing experience. Luckily, the episodes’ non-linear structures keep them from feeling too rote and predictable.
Overall, the first two episodes are a hopeful sign. Anthologies can allow for so much creative freedom, and Accused is already starting to spread its wings, if tentatively. A genuinely chilling moment in the premiere featuring Hennessy’s character shows signs of what the series could become. It holds the promise of captivating television that thrills by exploring painful issues in a thought-provoking way. As it stands, her devastating delivery of a knockout line felt like a button on the end of an episode that was clever at times but never probing.
Ultimately, Accused is the kind of show you can play in the background while you hang out with your family. No one will see anything too upsetting. No one will lose any sleep. For better or worse, these stories probably won’t haunt you. You may not even remember them after the credits roll.
Accused is now hearing cases on FOX.