A young man driving down a snowy road in a New Jersey park takes his eyes off the road and suddenly hits a boy on a bike. What does the man do next? Call the cops. Well, he is a cop. What about the kid? He's a 15 year old African American boy. As a fellow officer tells the cop, "when it comes to white cops and black kids, there are no accidents".
Veena Sud's Netflix drama series, Seven Seconds, pushes the right buttons without preaching and presents an enthralling portrait of our current moral climate. This is a racially charged series that will hopefully start a conversation. You don't have to turn too many pages on the computer monitor or newspaper to see a young boy losing his life with the police caught up in the middle. This is a must watch series for crime drama procedural addicts, but also should attract anyone who likes a form of entertainment to challenge them.
Right off the jump, the audience knows that Peter Jablonski (Beau Knapp) committed a crime, so this is no mystery like Sud's last hit series, AMC's The Killing. Before we know it, other cops show up, including narcotics detectives Mike DiAngelo (David Lyons), Manny Wilcox (Patrick Murney), Felix Osorio (Raul Castillo). DiAngelo, the alpha of the crime unit, tells Peter to drive off, that it will be taken care of. Peter's wife, Marie (Michelle Veintimilla) is in the hospital, so Peter obliges and takes off.
This event marks the first seven minutes of Seven Seconds, a moment that the entire series will be based off of in telling its story, so I'm not spoiling much here. We will meet the embattled parents of Brenton Butler, (played by Regina King and Russell Hornsby), imperfect people who are thrust into the worst situation imaginable with their son being critically injured and left for dead in a snowy ditch.
The lead prosecutor for the case is KJ Harper (Clare-Hope Ashitey from Children of Men), a troubled young woman with a weighted past and a drinking problem. The transplanted New York detective, Jim "Fish" Rinaldi (Michael Mosley), is assigned to the case and has to work with Harper, which pits two opposite personalities together to fight an uphill battle. Why is it so uphill? Cops are protected at times even when they do wrong.
Oh, by the way, it's 2018, so the moral dilemma facing all parties is a supporting character in itself. This is a ripped from the headlines story that will make you rightfully uncomfortable, but Sud laces the plot with plenty of twists, provocative arguments, and an even scale for the right and wrong in this tale to get their day in court, no pun intended. She doesn't have to embellish the white cop versus black kid narrative, because it feels so real that this will come off as a documentary at times instead of a TV show, which I think was the intent.
I'm a sucker for a great crime series, but when the creator can sprinkle in moral ambiguity, the show is taken to another level for me. An entertainment that can make you think and feel is an elite production, and Seven Seconds never takes its scope off the heart.
This series works so well because of the writing and the acting. A team of screenwriters including Evangeline Ordaz, Rhett Rossi, Francesca Sloane, and others produce authentic dialogue that sits on a tee for the actors to club into the gaps. The directing includes fine work from Gavin O'Connor and the last complete project from the late Jonathan Demme. The cinematography paints New York and the Statue of Liberty as moody backdrops to the case, watchful eyes over the events instead of a standing prop. Atmosphere is easily produced when the look and feel mesh together easily.
The plot is rigorously honest. You'll become enraged with Ashitey's KJ at times, because you know she is talented and capable, but as you learn about her background, you'll understand why she is her own worst enemy. She throws up her own roadblocks in this case. Mosley's Fish is easily the show's most likable character, because he is the audience's moral compass throughout the series. He has the ferocity to fight the good fight, but is also helpless in many respects. Mosley, a trained theater talent, also infuses the show with much-needed humor and wit.
Sud made a wise choice in casting true actors instead of movie stars for the vital roles, because this work doesn't need extra gloss and glamour. You probably don't know Ashitey, Mosley, Lyons, Murney, and Hornsby-but you will definitely follow them after this. You think you know King from Jerry Maguire and The Leftovers, but her work as Latrice is a game changer and surefire contender for the Emmy Awards.
I know Hornsby the most from his work as Denzel Washington's driver in American Gangster, but he is so great here as Isaiah, a dad who worked so hard to provide for his family that he may have missed his son's life before it was taken. King is a ferocious talent who gets several scene stopping moments as well, playing a mom who won't sleep or move on until justice is dealt.
This is a show where the obvious bad guys aren't one-sided wooden built characters. For example, Lyons' cop is corrupt, but he isn't evil. His crew is only evil enough to carry the devil's hat instead of wearing it. Harper and Fish are noble, but carry their own demons and weaknesses. King's Latrice and Hornsby's Isaiah love their son, but have their own imperfections. Brenton's uncle Seth (Zachary Momoh) has affiliations with the local gang, Five Kings, which makes the cops and accused suspect Brenton was gang-affiliated as well. Sud juggles the habitat of a gang member and how they are viewed by others, which will unsettle some.
By the way, may I tip my cap to Lyons, an Australian rocking the greatest Jersey accent of all time.
I like a series where the characters aren't completely laid out in the first 2-3 episodes.Like a poker player only getting to see one card at a time, I prefer to learn about each character slowly but surely, like a series of confrontations that starts with one cup of coffee and culminates with a full pot. This is a patient and assured series with intent.
Is Sud bias in her point of view on the corruption of our souls in our modern day world? Sure, but sometimes this medium can push the needle more than a true story. For the record, Seven Seconds was inspired by a Russian film of the same name, but this is all Veena Sud.
There are some surprises too. Gretchen Mol shows up towards the end and leaves a dent as the expert defense attorney who has to clear the cops of charges. She locks horns with Harper in a few key scenes that provide some heat, but the true fire is produced in the end with a speech from a key character that draws a map between make-believe and real life. Sud didn't make this show for pure profit; she wants to teach us something.
A day doesn't seem to pass by without Netflix producing a new original movie or series, but this one is their finest work to date. It's entertaining without being action packed, informative without being preachy, and produces emotion without manipulation. When it was over, I wanted ten more episodes. I wanted more time with the characters. The need to see how they got back up after being knocked down was intriguing instead of taxing. Usually, when a series is over, even one as successful as Jessica Jones or Stranger Things, you are satisfied and want a break from this world. I wanted more seconds here.
Is it completely realistic? Nope. Remember, this is a television series, even one that looks very familiar.
What does the title refer to? You'll find out if you watch the series, but I like to think it's about the amount of time it takes for someone to make a crucial decision. A move that could change not only their life, but many others as well. There is nothing more powerful in our lives than choice, and the seconds we take in coming to them is vital to our well-being or downfall.
Veena Sud made a splash with The Killing, but Seven Seconds should live on for decades. It'll remind you of a painful reality and a hopeful future while grounding you in the sad but true dilemma. It's an authentic delight that will shove your conscience around.
I implore you to watch it with an open mind.