Review: Fox's 'Shots Fired' explores thorny issues of race and police violence
The series begins with a gunshot.
The story in Fox's Shots Fired could have been ripped from the headlines, but then reversed: A young black police officer shoots and kills an unarmed white college student during a traffic stop in a small town in North Carolina.
What happens next is a dismantling of a town and its secrets, from the political aspirations of the governor and possible corruption within the town's law enforcement to the unanswered questions about another young man's death and the hidden motives of a community church.
Everything that follows is contradictory and challenging, leading the investigation team (Sanaa Lathan and Stephan James), both African American, along unexpected and often dangerous paths to the truth.
Lathan (The Perfect Guy) is Ashe Akino, a seasoned investigator with a casual, but no-nonsense attitude toward questioning those involved in the case. She constantly juggles one of the most controversial cases of her career with the possibility that her ex-husband will gain full custody of their daughter.
James (Selma) plays Preston Terry, an almost fresh out of law school special prosecutor who's a professional when it comes to following the rules, but struggles to look at the case with any sort of empathy.
The story is inspired by current events with an all-star cast bringing raw emotion to their characters.
Helen Hunt (As Good As It Gets, The Sessions) plays the governor of North Carolina, who "doesn't want another Ferguson," which would destroy the community but also really dampen her chances at re-election. The local sheriff's office has Stephen Moyer (True Blood) as a veteran lieutenant, Will Patton (The Good Wife) as the sheriff and Mack Wilds (The Wire) as Joshua Beck, the deputy who shot Jesse Carr. Aisha Hinds (Underground) is a local minister with her own agenda, and Jill Hennessy and DeWanda Wise standout as mothers who both lost sons.
Oh, and don't forget about Richard Dreyfuss (Madoff, Jaws) as a real estate mogul and owner of a privatized prison.
Shots Fired works well as a juicy TV drama and as a prickly examination of uncomfortable issues. But it works best when it's down off its soap box. TV is a good place to find reflections of reality, but it's not necessarily the best place for advice.
It certainly has echoes of what happened in Ferguson as well as the dozens of other police shootings that have become a too-common occurrence in the U.S. And the connections between art and life are clear and poignant.
When the shots are fired, people creep out of their homes to investigate and record the scene on cellphones. When Preston and Ashe hold a press conference with the governor, they're often talked over by press or protesters. And when activists want their voices heard, protests often turn violent and chaotic.
Whereas Shots Fired excels at reflecting real life and exploring class and race issues, it lacks in the complexity of its characters. We get glimpses of personal lives with Ashe and Preston, but don't get to see the emotional roller coaster deputy Beck goes through following the shooting. The two mothers go through the many stages of grief in the spotlight and Hinds' pastor is a force to be reckoned with, but we don't see much deeper into these characters beyond their titular roles.
Married creators Gina Prince-Bythewood and Reggie Rock Bythewood aim to provide an autopsy of the system that offers a comprehensive view of the interchange between race and criminal justice.
And while the show works best when it's not playing it safe, Shots Fired is a biting portrayal of reality.
Contact Chelsea Tatham at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @chelseatatham.
Shots Fired premieres at 8 p.m. Wednesday on Fox.