Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Emmy Episodes: American Son

It’s always my policy to watch every Emmy-nominated episode each year, which leads me to sample a handful of shows that I don’t tune in to on a regular basis. For the fifth year in a row, I’m making a special effort to spotlight each of those installments to offer my perspective on shows that I don’t review each week.

American Son (B)

So, this isn’t actually an episode but a TV movie marked as a “Netflix television event.” For the first time ever, I’m watching all of the nominees for Best TV Movie, and that’s the only Emmy for which this project is in contention. Interestingly, it premiered back in November to mostly negative reviews that found its handling of race to be preachy. I think it’s taken on an increased relevance since then given the national reckoning that is now happening, and the content here doesn’t shy away from controversy. Having the morning shift liaison officer be Black and express a completely contradictory view of what Black people in America should do and expect made things much more complicated, just hinting at the many layers of difficulty in assessing the ways in which race, as the opening quote said, is the child of racism rather than the father. I immediately pegged that this was staged like a play, which makes sense given that it is apparently based on the Broadway show of the name same that also includes the same four performers. What this cinematic version does is to provide the constant stream of rain in the background, close-ups on the faces of the characters, and flashbacks to scenes that felt very unnecessary. Jeremy Jordan from “Supergirl” was in a very unlikeable role as the cop who seemed merely unhelpful and prone to microaggressions but revealed his behavior to be far less forgivable when he unloaded on Kendra’s white husband thinking he was the lieutenant. I first saw Steven Pasquale in his role as the dim-witted Sean on “Rescue Me,” and he’s doing more serious work now with “The Good Wife” and “Do No Harm.” I didn’t recognize Eugene Lee, who has an extensive resume of mostly TV guest appearances. Kerry Washington certainly gave an involved performance, though I think her starring role in “Little Fires Everywhere” that earned an Emmy nomination this year was a bit stronger. Though it did feel very choreographed, this movie’s dialogue and storyline was very involving, and I can hope that its nomination means that more people will see it and contemplate the ideas presented.

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