While crime shows litter Prime Time network television as much as George Santos lies, a good true crime series is hard to come by. The tropes of courtroom and crime dramas have been ingrained into the masses by seemingly bottomless episodes of Law and Order, Criminal Minds, and pretty much every HBO miniseries for over a decade. It makes bad crime shows stick out like a sore thumb.
First premiering in 2010 in the U.K., Accused was an episodic anthology that followed a person in a court trial for an infraction the viewer does not know of at the start. The series featured serious acting chops, with such soon-to-blossom talents as Olivia Colman and Robert Sheehan and established stars like Andy Serkis and Sean Bean.
A dozen years later, the series has arrived overseas, fully Americanized, as a midseason replacement on Fox from showrunner Howard Gordon, who previously worked on 24 and Homeland.
It’s clear from the opening moments of this Accused (★★☆☆☆) that a lot of care went into making make it look good. The same can’t be said for the scripts. The first episode, featuring Michael Chiklis as the father of a troubled teen, often sounds like a parody considering how bad the dialogue gets.
The show, as a whole, loves to drop buzzwords like “incel” but doesn’t actually have the depth to coherently adapt these “ripped from the headlines” stories that fill up the bulk of its episodes.
The first episode doesn’t break any new ground — it feels like it’s trying to come off smarter than it is. Chiklis gives his all to the role of a concerned father, but every line he utters is more predictable than the last. When an episode’s plot twists and turns commence, tension is often broken by courtroom scenes that stifle the momentum and give away the ending.
Out of the first group of episodes provided to critics, “Robyn’s Story,” features an LGBTQ storyline, with a drag queen accused of committing a crime against his lover’s wife. Broadway star J. Harrison Ghee is exceptional in the episode, which is directed by Billy Porter. But the script egregiously drops buzzwords like “chaser,” “masc for masc,” and “facts are facts” to try and make everything seem closer to the queer experience. The writing is shallow and uneven, and feels like it was done by someone who only watched the newer seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race.
One problem with Accused is how hard it is to care about what happens to the constantly changing central character. Forty minutes isn’t enough time to ask us to care about the cast in most episodes.
When it comes to the greatest of true crime television, like Law and Order: SVU or Mare of Easttown, there is time to build and develop a rapport with the audience. Even larger-scale anthologies like American Crime Story understand that even if a viewer doesn’t care about the specific crime on hand, the characters can compel you, something Accused rarely accomplishes.
Despite the sparks the show has at times, its story becomes repetitious after the formula of each episode fails to change or even try something new. By the midway point of each episode, we pretty much know how the episode will end.
It’s clear Fox wanted a prestige series to compete with the streaming giants that have it down to a science, but it’s also clear they didn’t want to give it the time or energy to actually make it worthwhile. Each episode commits more sins than the last; the show feels intent on squandering any real success in favor of a trendy news topic.
If you run out of true crime podcasts to listen to, Accused may be a decent substitute. But no one will be quick to accuse this series of being the next big hit.
New episodes of Accused air on Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET and are available the next day for streaming on Hulu. Visit www.fox.com or www.hulu.com.
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