Shots Fired (Fox): First Impressions

DOJ prosecutor Preston Terry (Stephan James) and investigator Ashe Akino (Sanaa Lathan)

NOTE: This review contains MILD SPOILERS for the first three hours of the series.

[1] Shots Fired is at its best when raising legitimate questions about the criminal justice system and attempting to answer them. But I don’t know if there is an answer. The dark overtones that envelope the show at times feel real and appropriate. For a topic this serious, darkness may be the only way to truly shed light on the gravity of the situation.

[2] …I am not surprised by the haters in the reviews here. To me, these are people that are stuck in their ways and are not trying to see the world through different sets of eyes. Blacks and others have had to watch MOST TV through white people’s eyes and they expect us to be happy for it. Now you have a show like this that is finally putting Black people in a humane and more realistic light and they can’t handle it.

[3] I’m Asian male [Vietnamese] that grew up in a working class neighborhood and episode 1 gave me goosebumps because it aligns so much with our reality. You probably thinking how can I say that when I’m an Asian male. Truth is, many of our struggles are similar to blacks in America. You may not know, but there is an Asian gang culture in every major cities in America due to the same reasons that make it hard for blacks to succeed in America. Any law enforcement officers in major cities can confirm this.

-Excerpts from various IMDB reviews

Deputy Joshua Beck (Mack Wilds) is the young cop and family man who becomes an outcast on the police force.

Unnecessary police violence, particularly white cops against black offenders, is a topic that has everyone on edge. But, what happens when it’s a black cop that shoots an unarmed white kid based on racial profiling? 

The show centers on junior DOJ prosecutor, Preston Terry (Stephan James- who is Canadian and just 25 y.o.), and investigator, Ashe Akino (Sanaa Lathan- daughter of a prolific Hollywood producer), who are sent to a small North Carolina town to investigate a police shooting. It’s much better, if a black officer (Deputy Joshua Beck- played by 28 y.o. Mack Wilds)  is investigated and convicted by a black prosecutor, as one of Preston’s superiors in DC says in the first scene. Ashe and Terry dig deeper and find that an unarmed black kid was shot by a white officer not too long ago in the “houses”(projects) of this same town. 

Critics (and viewers) see a lot of potential in James; he definitely has that “It” factor (which an actor needs to get to leading man status). Don’t forget that a very young Blair Underwood played an attorney on L.A. Law in the ’80s. Wilds is doing pretty well in this role (never seen him before); the actor admitted that he never imagined himself in the shoes of a police officer before. He’s got an innocence and freshness about him- key for his role. What to say re: Sanaa Lathan?  Hmm… well, she’s got youthful looks (even at age 45); her acting is not terrible, but pretty one-note.

Governor Eamons (Helen Hunt) talks to press while her aide Sarah (Conor Leslie) and Preston (James) look on.

Patricia Eamons (Helen Hunt) is the first female governor of the state; she was the one who decided to bring in the DOJ.  Local pastor Janae James (Aisha Hinds) points out, after all the shootings of unarmed black men, why is this the case where the feds decide to get involved? Hinds’ outspoken activist, yet also spiritual, character is unlike most preachers we’ve seen on TV- female, youthful, and putting faith into action. 

Richard Dreyfus is introduced (near the end of the second hour); he is a 1st gen American businessman looking to advance a new prison/educational complex. I’ve seen three hours so far, but  may keep w/ it (if the writing gets stronger and the veteran actors get more to do). So far, British actor Stephen Moyer (who plays Lt. Breeland) has just been a jerk. He may have brought some fans along w/ him from True Blood (never seen that show, so can’t judge).  I’m waiting to see more of Will Patton (who plays the sheriff); he has a way w/ ambiguous characters.  

Jill Hennessy at the Sundance premiere of “Shots Fired.” I was very happy to see her back on network TV!

We get to see Ashe and Preston in their private lives, unlike what you’ve seen in most Law and Order-type series. Speaking of that iconic TV show, the still stunning Jill Hennessy plays Alicia Carr, the heartbroken mother of the white college student. She gets a chance to shine in the third hour. Preston, who could’ve been a professional baseball player, is trying to earn the respect of his father (Dennis Haysbert) and older brother, (a pro football player). Ashe is a woman with serious anger issues, trying to keep primary custody of her daughter. Her Latino ex-boyfriend is planning to marry (a younger Latina woman) and raise their daughter full-time. 

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Shots Fired (FOX): Starting March 22, 8PM EST

This 10-part series examines the aftermath of racially charged shootings in a small North Carolina town. It was produced by the successful/critically-acclaimed husband-wife team of Gina Prince-Bythewood (Beyond the Lights, The Secret Life of Bees, Love & Basketball) and Reggie Rock Bythewood (Beyond the Lights, Notorious). Aside from the timely/controversial topic, the supporting cast could be a big draw (incl. Oscar winners Richard Dreyfuss and Helen Hunt, as well as Law and Order‘s Jill Hennessey). The leads are two black actors- film veteran Sanaa Lathan (who plays investigator Ashe Akino) and up-and-comer Stephan James (federal prosecutor Preston Terry). James hails from Canada and notably played the young John Lewis in Selma. 

First Look: A Murder Myster (FOX)

 

Actors Sanaa Lathan and Mack Wilds on The View (ABC)

 

Hell or High Water (2016) starring Chris Pine, Ben Foster & Jeff Bridges

NOTE: This is a SPOILER-FREE review.

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Tanner (Ben Foster) and Tobey (Chris Pine) drink beer on their ranch.

This is (most likely) the “dark horse” in the Best Picture category in the Oscars, BUT if you like fine films, you need to check it out! I heard great reviews of it on 2 different podcasts, BUT finally saw it tonight (thanks to Redbox). This film takes you on a journey (not TOO long or short); it has interesting characters (including the bit players); and Jeff Bridges is in it (so what’s NOT to like!?) 

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Deputy Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and his partner.

Deputy Marcus Hamilton (Bridges- one of my faves) is 3 weeks from retirement when he gets VERY interested in a curious case. Two men have been robbing branches of a particular West Texas bank for moderate sums of cash. These men are our main protagonists- brothers Tanner (Ben Foster) and Tobey (Chris Pine) Howard. Tanner is a loud-mouthed ex-con ONLY out of jail for a year; he enjoys robbing banks.  Tobey is more quiet, and his reluctant partner. Though they are VERY different men, they love and protect each other. 

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Tobey Howard (Chris Pine) has his eyes on the future.

This is labeled as a crime drama and a Western, BUT I feel it defies genre conventions. There is much humor, thanks in part to Bridges and his Native American/Mexican partner, Alberto (Gil Birmingham). There is easy chemistry between Foster (a bundle of energy and volatility) and Pine (somber, scraggly haired, and unglamorous). I NEVER saw what the fuss was about Pine until this film! The music and cinematography (by Giles Nuttgens, who has worked w/ BOTH Deepa Mehta and Mira Nair- two of my fave directors) are VERY well-done; too bad I didn’t see it earlier on the big screen.

Fargo (Season 1)

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Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman) is bullied by the Hess family

NOTE: This review contains MILD SPOILERS for the FX series (inspired by the Coen brothers’ film- Fargo).

I heard about this show from a former co-worker (who called it “the best show on TV”) and via little snippets online.  However, it took me SOME time to get into the story and finish watching the DVD set (which I purchased on sale from FYE).  I watched it twice to get a better understanding of the story. 

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Lester happens to meet Lee Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) in the ER

If you enjoy watching British actor Martin Freeman (The Hobbit; Sherlock), then this show MAY make you into a fan.  He gets to stretch his acting muscles here, NOT only playing the meek, mild, “Nice Guy” you’d expect. 

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Deputy Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman) interviews Lester at his desk in the insurance office.

The good guys on this show are ALMOST as interesting as the baddies- you’ll want to cheer for them for sure!  Deputy Molly Solverson (Alison Tolman) is a humble, earnest, and observant 2nd gen police officer in her hometown of Bimidji, MN (which is close to Fargo, ND).  Molly is around 30, looks like an average Midwestern woman (thank you, producers), likeable, BUT sometimes undermined in her role (by the males in her department).   

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Deputy Gus Grimly (Colin Hanks) in his patrol car

She finds a complementary foil in reluctant cop and loving single dad, Officer Gus Grimly (Colin Hanks).  On my second watch, I LOVED seeing their working friendship evolve into a slow-burn romance.  Tolman and Hanks have such an easygoing and sweet chemistry- it’s rare to see in modern TV.  Murder investigations CAN bring people together! 

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Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele play FBI agents

There are several well-known actors who are guest stars on the show; I esp. liked seeing Key and Peele as two clueless FBI agents.  In a few of their scenes, I wondered if they were making fun of the two cops on Season 1 of True Detective or perhaps such sketches from their OWN show. 

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The “new” Lester flirts with a young woman in Vegas

One of my favorites on the show is Lou (Keith Carradine), a retired cop who now runs a diner; he is also a widower and Molly’s father.  Lou and Molly have such a GREAT relationship; we see the love and respect shine through in every scene they share.  At times, Lou is concerned re: the safety of his daughter, BUT he never undermines her ability to do her job. (FYI: Season 2 goes back in time to find Lou, played by Patrick Wilson, as a young deputy.)

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Malvo tries to get info out of Lou Solverson in his diner

If you like Billy Bob Thornton, then this series will simply be a treat; the veteran movie actor creates a scary good villain and chews up the scenery.  He transforms himself w/ different hair, clothing, posture, manners, etc.  I think Fargo is definitely worth a watch (esp. b/c of the VERY strong acting, writing, cinematography, and music).  It’s a character drama mixed w/ a police procedural, w/ sudden doses of violence (which is to be expected also in MOST of the Coens’ films).    

Broadchurch: Series 2 (Netflix)

This review contains MILD spoilers for the British (BBC/ITV) show.

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I started watching this series in July, BUT didn’t get to the bulk of the eps until Thanksgiving.  Series 2 focuses on the trial of Det. Ellie Miller’s (Olivia Colman) husband (Joe), an older case which is still affecting DI Alec Hardy (David Tennant), and how various individuals of the small town of Broadchurch (as well as a few new characters) deal w/ the aftermath of Series 1.  The community is  shocked (yet again) when Joe decides to plead “not guilty” to the death of Billy Latimer! 

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The Latimers, Beth (Jodie Whittaker) and Mark (Andrew Buchan), have a new baby girl; they still grieve for Billy. This couple has emotionally complicated chemistry with each other, perhaps even better than in the S1.  (Their teen daughter, Chloe, doesn’t have much to do in this series.)  Rev. Paul Coates (Arthur Darvill) and Australian hotel owner, Becca Fisher (Simone McAullay), are in a long-term relationship- BIT of a surprise.  We can see that Paul is conflicted about his role in this town. 

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Miller has been downgraded to the level of traffic cop and now lives in a small apt. w/ her toddler son, Fred.  Her older son, Tommy (who was Billy’s best pal), has chosen to live temporarily w/ Aunt Lucy.  Miller is STILL a dogged cop, even motivating Hardy to keep going when he gets disillusioned.

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We meet Hardy’s ex-wife and teen daughter, who live several hours away and are doing well in life.  We sense that Hardy wants to be a more involved parent.  He is now taking meds, BUT eventually undergoes a heart procedure. The BEST thing about this series is the growing friendship and continued partnership between Miller and Hardy!  Colman and Tennant, at times, have a competitive (perhaps brother-sister) type of chemistry.

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We slowly learn more re: the Pippa Gillespie/Lisa Newberry case. The witness Hardy had been protecting, hairdresser Claire Ripley (Eve Myles) and her overbearing boyfriend, Lee Ashworth (James D’Arcy from Agent Carter) feature prominently in this series.  They seem like the definition of a co-dependent/dysfunctional couple;  I would’ve liked to see less of their story.      

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The newcomers to the series were the main draw for me (aside from Tennant and Colman).  Two former colleagues, prosecutor Sharon Bishop (Marianne Jean- Baptiste) and veteran defense attorney, Jocelyn Knight (Charlotte Rampling) are on opposite sides of the trial. These women are BOTH very smart, tough, and experienced in court.  They each have other issues to deal w/ outside of work, which we slowly discover.  I wanted to see a BIT more of them!  There is a LOT more to this show, so check it out if you liked Series 1.