TV Review - Shots Fired

Gina Prince-Bythewood and Reggie Rock Bythewood are an African-American husband and wife who have been working in the Hollywood industry for over 20 years. Both started as writers on the sitcom A Different World in 1992. The husband went on to become a producer on the hit, police drama New York Undercover (1994). The wife went on to become a director with her first feature Love & Basketball (2000). After nearly two decades, her first film continues to be her most well-known. Her subsequent films have also focused on love and romance in the black community. That aspect is lost here in this 10-episode series. The show instead leans on the husband's sensibilities, which deal more with crime and social issues. The husband for example famously wrote Spike Lee's Get on the Bus (1996).

Stephan James (Race and Selma) stars as Preston Terry, a very ambitious attorney from Virginia who is one year out of law school and who has been recruited to work for the Department of Justice under the Obama administration. His specialty is looking into civil rights violations. He's assigned to a case in Gate Station, North Carolina when a young black cop shoots an unarmed white college student.

When this show was announced a year ago or maybe less, it was in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. It certainly tackles the movement's main issue, but its hook does muddy the waters and pull focus, if possibly to appeal to more than just the black community. The goal should be to appeal to more than just black people, but unfortunately the Bythewood duo do muddy the waters or cloud the issue by conflating the wrong thing.

Preston goes to North Carolina to look into a young, black cop shooting an unarmed, white student. Black Lives Matter has the mission of spotlighting white cops shooting unarmed, black people. Basically, the Bythewoods reverse it. Now, I'm sure there is an artistic reason for the reversal. It smells more of network interference or insistence of white characters with whom white audiences can empathize.

Regardless, the Bythewoods give credence to critics of Black Lives Matter who say "all lives matter." Yes, an unarmed, white person getting shot and killed by police is just as problematic as an unarmed, black person getting shot and killed by police. Yet, the reason Black Lives Matter is a legitimate movement is because statistics show that black people historically and even presently have been killed at the hands of police or whatever authorities disproportionately.

In fact, CNN reported in December, according to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, black men are nearly three times as likely to be killed by police. Dr. James Buehler of Drexel University acknowledges that more white men are killed but that the racial disparity does exist. A separate study reported that police use force on blacks disproportionately higher than whites. When it comes to almost all police activity from arrests to incarcerations, black people are disproportionately affected negatively.

Yet, instead of dealing with the reality of that, the Bythewoods would rather be clever or subversive, but this show does nothing for Black Lives Matter but nod to it. It certainly does it no justice. By the fifth episode, it's obvious that the Bythewoods aren't after any kind of truth as they weave together a ludicrous conspiracy plot involving Richard Dreyfuss, more appropriate for a black exploitation flick from the 1970's than anything in the Obama era.

Tristan Mack Wilds (The Wire and 90210) plays Josh Beck, the black officer who shoots the unarmed, white student. He's supposed to be the only black cop on a predominantly white police force. He's the sympathetic young cop with a wife and child who experiences the most backlash. We're supposed to feel sorry for him, but it's funny how the Bythewoods make him the only sympathetic cop. All the other white cops are painted with such a broad brush.

In that, the Bythewoods show their racial bias. They make it clear that Josh is the good one. He's black and good, while all the cops who are white are bad or highly antagonistic. It makes them seem like cartoon characters than fleshed-out humans. They try to flesh out one cop, Lt. Breeland, played by Stephen Moyer (True Blood and The Bastard Executioner). We see Breeland's daughter and such but only briefly and it's not enough to keep him from coming off as a Rocky and Bullwinkle villain.

Sanaa Lathan who has starred in two of Gina Prince-Bythewood's previous features co-stars as Ashe Akino, the investigator who is assigned to assist Preston. She in many ways is this show's saving grace. She's tough, smart and sexy. She's also a little damaged. She has a shooting incident in her past that mirrors what Josh is going through. Yet, the show keeps that incident and her full past at bay. Really, this series should be all about her and digging deeply and completely into her past, but the show would rather make it about the aforementioned plot, while juggling politics on top of everything.

Helen Hunt (As Good As It Gets and The Sessions) plays Patricia Eamons, the governor of North Carolina who is very much another character in this narrative. She's very good and interesting a character, but it's just too much. The show is juggling too much.

Rated TV-14-DLSV.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Wednesdays at 8PM on FOX.


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