The first six episodes were provided prior to broadcast.
Broadcast television is divided between conformity and progression. Stations like CBS and NBC, for instance, largely refuse to move from comfortable original programming, without relevance or (for the most part) originality, while ABC and Fox go out of their way to challenge themselves by developing a social conscious. Shots Fired, Fox’s latest, most timely drama, is not comfortable TV. Instead, it’s urgent, thoughtful, political, poignant, intelligent and filled with relevancy and bleeding sincerity. If only it didn’t digress so readily into melodramatics and convoluted narratives. If there’s a show that desperately needs to ground itself squarely in reality, it’s most definitely this one.
Desperately hoping to discuss topical, serious-minded issues while still heavily catering to the juicy bombast of, say, Empire, Shots Fired is an interesting combination of pointed, pertinent television and sensationalized serialization. The result is, expectedly, more-than-a-little uneven. But when it’s vigilant, resilient and justifiably angry, it’s an absolute powerhouse of emotionally-charged social commentary, one that doesn’t flinch away from weighted topics, recent headlines or needed discussions. It’s not exactly the heart-pounding, heartbreaking cultural event that became The People vs. O.J. Simpson — at least, not in these first six episodes in this ten-part limited event program — but this series, similarly, has the power to greatly impact and truly resonate in today’s climate. Indeed, Shots Fired comes out with a bang.
Created by Gina Prince-Bythewood (Beyond the Lights) and Reggie Rock Bythewood, Shots Fired starts with a gunshot and it doesn’t get any quieter. In a small North Carolina town, Deputy Joshua Beck (Tristan Mack Wilds) shoots and kills an unarmed 19-year-old white college student in broad daylight, in front of a stop sign, with witnesses everywhere but no clear sign of what happened. It’s a challenging, instantly controversial case, and not one that can be handled without careful consideration. Enter young, straight-laced special prosecutor Preston Terry (Stephen James) and seasoned, no-nonsense investigator Ashe Akino (Sanaa Lathan), two head-smart, hard-willed professionals chosen because of their smarts, skills, precision and the color of their skin.
In typical partner fashion, they don’t get along well at first, but they come to respect and depend upon one another, particularly as they fight against small-town corruption, hypocritical politicians and skewed public attention to discover the root of this incident, which only continues to fracture the community and shatter family dynamics. That divide doesn’t get any friendlier when these investigators discover more local shadiness infested around town, particularly from the cops.
Also featuring supporting players Helen Hunt, Richard Dreyfuss, Aisha Hinds, Will Patton and True Blood‘s Stephen Moyer, Shots Fired is a current, compellingly nuanced new series which sometimes lets its splashiness get ahead of its burning, critical integrity. There are steamy romance subplots, heated, violent confrontations and passionate yelling that’s meant to grip the viewer just before the next commercial break, yet it’s skittish and quick to jump away from the grounded imperativeness of the material. A little flashiness is fine, but it often distracts and disengages you from the sharp, vital honesty that should be at the forefront. And, to be fair, it usually, often is.
The performances are solid all-around, with the leads commendably establishing a believable-but-engaging rapport that (thankfully) doesn’t ever lead to unnecessary romance (at least, not yet). The cinematography is realistic while still artistic, favoring a low-to-the-ground approach that doesn’t forget to find the beauty even in ugly social divides. The production designers uses real locations with real impact, and best of all, it’s helmed predominately by black filmmakers, including Anthony Hemingway (Red Tails), Malcolm D. Lee (The Best Man films), Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou), Millicent Shelton (Ride) and Gina Prince-Bythewood, as well as Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs).
Shots Fired is thankfully one of those shows that only gets better with each episode, with more subtlety and reservation to counteract against all the promo-friendly theatrics. It’s heavy and heavy-handed, overpowering and overblown, but it’s still demanding television, in ways both good and bad. But it’s a telling, open-minded and deeply open-hearted program that needs to air on television in 2017, particularly in audience-friendly broadcast stations, and thankfully, Fox is here to air it. Shots Fired is what we need to see these days, and thankfully it hits its mark. Mostly.
Shots Fired doesn't quite hit its target, but it's far from a misfire.