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Fox Has Hit the Target with ‘Shots Fired’
March 22, 2017  | By David Hinckley

Broadcast television has another strong, compelling and troubling entry in the limited-series game with Fox’s Shots Fired.

The 10-episode drama, which premieres at 8 p.m. ET Wednesday, revolves around the shooting of an unarmed man by a police officer in a small North Carolina town.

The twist: The victim is white and the cop, Joshua Beck (Tristan Wilds), is black.

Citing the recent string of real-world cases in which unarmed men have been killed by police, the federal Justice Department sends young prosecutor Preston Terry (Stephan James, top) to oversee this one.  

Part of the reason, made openly clear, is that Terry is black. So is his investigator, Ashe Akino (Sanaa Lathan, top).

Officer Beck says it was a clean shoot, that the victim resisted him during a routine stop and tried to grab his gun.

This scenario is not, however, clear. In fact, nothing is clear, particularly since no one in the black neighborhood where the shooting occurred will give any law enforcement representative the time of day, never mind a witness statement.

Instead, we start by getting an avalanche of ancillary dramas and subplots that make the story increasingly tangled and complex – at times, at least in the first few episodes, perhaps more than necessary.

Because of the high profile of this case, North Carolina Governor Patricia Eamons (Helen Hunt, above) makes herself a prominent media presence, boosting her reelection campaign while pressing Terry to get Beck indicted.

This feels like a routine grab for television face time until we see she’s also professionally and financially entwined with Arlen Cox (Richard Dreyfuss, below), a real estate developer whose latest project has a potentially troubling link to the larger issue of the North Carolina criminal justice system.  

Meanwhile, Terry and Aquino soon discover their case may not be the only one with potential racial overtones in this little town. It seems an unarmed black youth died several weeks earlier and the local police warned his mother to keep it quiet. What’s that about?

As if this all weren’t enough drama, both Terry and Aquino are battling serious and potentially debilitating personal problems, involving domineering parents and a child custody battle.

With all that going on, they still manage to locate a little romantic recreation within a few days of arriving in town. As the man said, it’s complicated.

If Shots Fired sounds like it has a kinship to ABC’s American Crime, it does, and that’s a compliment.

It’s still a bold step for a broadcast network show to lay out a complex and emotional issue in deep shades of gray, which is what creators Gina Prince-Bythewood and Reggie Rock Bythewood have done.

It’s a safe bet, from the opening moments, that Shots Fired isn’t heading for any quick, easy wrap-up.

Terry makes a speech early in the show about the expectations and dreams of “post-racial America,” a place Shots Fired quickly makes clear is a myth in this small Southern town and probably almost everywhere else.

If the drama is hard to synopsize, it’s not difficult to follow on screen. The characters ring true, there seem to be no weak spots in the acting, and it’s a story that matters, because every honest exploration of our racial unease might help bring us a little closer to resolving it.

Shots Fired is a story you want to keep watching.

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