A charismatic black superstar is accused of murdering his white wife and her friend. A frenzied news media swirls around the trial, the American public rabid over every ghoulish detail — from the victims’ bloodletting to the female prosecutor’s sartorial choices. The case becomes a litmus test over race in the U.S., the defense arguing an unjust and prejudiced indictment. His children stand behind him; the district attorneys want him to fry. The man is shockingly acquitted, but a decade later he once again finds himself entangled in another criminal nightmare.
If ABC’s vacuous legal drama The Fix sounds like ripped-from-the headlines déjà vu, please note that it is, in fact, worse. In 2007, O.J. Simpson wrote and nearly published a “hypothetical” account of his ex-wife’s murder called If I Did It. This show is Marcia Clark’s “If I Convicted It.”
Clark, the prosecutor who botched the Simpson trial and, preposterously, now produces this series, has crafted a campy procedural simultaneously so fatuous and bold-faced that it’s basically dystopian in the levels of self-awareness it lacks. This odious vanity project, which hoists a young white attorney into the air to anoint her the hero that will finally bring down the black man she neglected to convict the first time, falls somewhere on the nauseating spectrum between “author’s universe” fan fiction and revenge porn.
Robin Tunney stars as Maya Travis, a D.A. who escaped to live on a Washington state ranch after popular actor Sevvy Johnson (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) is acquitted on all counts of murder in 2010. When Sevvy’s twenty-something girlfriend shows up murdered on a beach nearly 10 years later, Travis is ignited from retirement and returns to Los Angeles to investigate and re-prosecute the man who so rudely made her question her own talents as a lawyer. At one point, someone actually says, “This time, we’re gonna get him.”
With a sprawling cast, it’s hard to keep up with, but also care about, the various subplots crammed into each episode: Maya repairing the personal and professional relationships she severed when she skipped town; the plight of the sad white stepson of Sevvy’s dead ex-wife who idolizes the indifferent man who raised him; Sevvy’s daughter feeling the full weight of guilt for introducing her father to the girlfriend who’s been killed; the shady partnership between Sevvy and his money-grubbing first ex-wife; the peacocking defense lawyer’s mob debts; and Maya’s examination of Sevvy’s history as a violent and controlling abuser.
This oil slick of a series doesn’t even pretend to be anything other than fantasy historical revisionism, down to the name “Maya Travis” being a sexier fun-house mirror version of “Marcia Clark.” (Just swap out the middle-aged man surnames — heck, I’m surprised they didn’t give “Marla Neil” a whirl.) By the end of the premiere, it’s clear the initial pitch meeting included a cynical attempt to sell this show as a modern, #MeToo-tinted reframing of the Simpson trial. (To be fair, Clark has always seen Nicole Brown Simpson’s death as the final, horrific act in her ex-husband’s long history as a domestic abuser, but this is probably the first time Clark has tried to directly profit from it.)
Like the recent and popular analytical deep-dives into Simpson’s incendiary murder trial, from American Crime Story to O.J.: Made in America, this show seems less invested in elucidating the lives of the murder victims than depicting the burbling intrigue of the legal players. We’re expected to sympathize with Maya when she whines to a friend about how hard it was for her being in the public eye while people criticized her hairstyle.
Even if you could stomach the unctuous slime trailing from the show’s conceit, its witless execution is another stopper. The Fix is your typical cheesy, sun-soaked ABC melodrama, but one left out so long to bleach that its brain is completely zapped. When Sevvy’s attorney, Ezra Wolf (Scott Cohen), questions if he’s a terrible person, a sycophant offers, “We’re people of our time, and it’s a terrible time.” It’s a line that reminds you that no matter how dumb your husband thought Scandal was from just hearing the snippets of the dialogue, that ABC soap was brilliant at being dumb, its baroque Rhimesian monologues the Shakespeare of camp. There’s no ounce of fun here; The Fix is paradoxically grim and goofy at the same time.
The show may be a critical failure at reading the room, but it also somehow knows the exact wrong way to address this flub. With the question of racial discrimination baked into its very premise, it tries to skirt around apotheosizing a white woman admittedly pursuing revenge against a black man by building up a racially inclusive supporting cast. (Note our protagonist’s obsession with revenge, as opposed to, say, justice.) But what does “diversity” matter when your writing team takes every opportunity to build up a black villain’s animalism? “The bitch is back,” Sevvy snarls about Maya returning to work on the case. “I can feel her here.”
As if anticipating its criticisms, the writers pre-emptively and panderingly address these issues in a shoe-horned scene in which a younger and jealous prosecutor Loni Kampour (Mouzam Makker) cuts Maya down. “Since you like stories, here’s the one Wolf is going to tell: ‘Vengeful white lady comes back to town to persecute innocent black man.’ This should be my case. Not just because I’m a person of color and it’s 2019 and optics matter, but because I’m a better lawyer than you.” Sorry not sorry.
By the second episode, it’s evident there’s not enough material for a whole season if we’re just going to go down rabbit holes filled with red herrings. (In that chapter, a suicide occurs so suddenly and is then treated so inconsequentially, both by the characters and in terms of where it happens in the episode structure, that the moment comes off as legitimately comical.) Like someone getting their partner’s name tattooed on their boob, putting the word “fix” in your title really portends its own fate.
Cast: Robin Tunney, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbajei. Adam Rayner, Scott Cohen, Mouzam Makker Alex Saxon, Merrin Dungey, Breckin Meyer, Taylor Kalupa
Executive producers: Marcia Clark, Sarah Fain, Elizabeth Craft, David Hoberman, Laurie Zaks, Todd Lieberman, Michael Katleman
Premieres: Monday, 10 p.m. ET/PT (ABC)