John Ridley on Timely Parallels of ABC's 'American Crime'

American Crime (ABC)

Stars: Timothy Hutton, Felicity Huffman, Elvis Nolasco, Caitlin Gerard, Richard Cabral, Johnny Ortiz, Benito Martinez, W. Earl Brown, Penelope Ann Miller
Team: John Ridley, Michael McDonald

Examines the personal lives of the players involved in a racially charged trial as their worlds are turned upside down.

ABC's John Ridley drama American Crime couldn't come at a better time.

The series examines the personal lives of the players involved in a racially charged trial as their worlds are turned upside down. Timothy Hutton stars Russ, as a father who, after making great pains to reconnect with his adult sons Matt and Mark, is destroyed when he learns that Matt and his wife, Lily, have been murdered in their home in Modesto, Calif. Felicity Huffman plays Barb, his ex-wife, a stoic woman who raised their sons as a single mother who still resents living as the only single white woman in a racially charged environment and being treated accordingly by the other occupants. She's determined to hold someone accountable for Matt's death.

"It's not about police prosecutors, but about the family and what they deal with," Ridley said. "These events take months, if not years, to deal with and sometimes there's not a resolution."

The drama, which took form in 2013 when executive producer Michael J. McDonald and ABC approached Ridley with the concept, explores race relations as well as family and faith. The 11-episode anthology, should it return for a second season, will feature a new case with potentially some of the castmembers returning.

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"The difficulty of doing the show … you want it to be relevant to a certain degree," Ridley told reporters on Wednesday at the Television Critics Association's winter press tour.

"When we started working on the show, we were at space where I thought maybe we're not relevant anymore, maybe we've moved past things. Then, very sadly, I realized we predate some things," he said of events including Ferguson and the subsequent Hands Up, Don't Shoot movement.

"The reality is these events remain cyclical in this country," he added of the series, which does include a "hands up, don't shoot" scene. "It was never our desire to exploit these things. You want to build space where people recognize it's not purely empty entertainment."

As for the specific "hands up, don't shoot" image, Ridley said writers aren't "preaching." "Sometimes it is just a shot and an image that resonates in all regards, whether it's hands up, don't shoot or if we go tight on the eyes of a police officer who realizes something's about to become out of control. In that space, we could be honorific to events and not worry about chasing events. There are going be people who draw some parallels with what we are doing."

Producers and the cast stressed that American Crime is really about following everyone involved with the case and not just the final event but rather how each character moves on each day, week and month after a horrific event and how every one responds to it.

"[It's about] their behavior, how it is that this can happen to them and how they can move through their lives and, in some cases, be reunited with people they probably would not have been," Hutton said of the season's journey.

Added Benito Martinez, who portrays Alonzo, the beleaguered father whose innocent son is among the suspects in the slaying at the center of the show: "It's an examination of different families and how they each deal with the circumstances [and] what we lean on, what we trust; what we know all gets changed through the course of the show."

While Ridley was mum on who would potentially return if there were to be a second season, he stressed that a sophomore season would likely look different, with a new approach to the "language of cinema" as well as its editing style, score and aspect ratio.

American Crime premieres on Thursday, March 5 at 10 p.m. on ABC. Watch the trailer below.