WHEN | WHERE Second-season premiere Jan. 6 at 10 p.m. on ABC/7
WHAT IT’S ABOUT Anne Blaine (Lili Taylor), a single mother who runs a diner in Indianapolis, gets a call from the prestigious school her son attends. She needs to come right over. Her son Taylor (Connor Jessup, “Falling Skies”) has been suspended. Photos of him in a drunken stupor have been posted online. Reluctantly, Taylor tells his mom what happened — he may have been raped at a party for the co-captains of the basketball team, Eric Tanner (Joey Pollari) and Kevin LaCroix (Trevor Jackson). The latter’s mother, Terri (Regina King) and father, Michael (Andre Benjamin), are African-American pillars of the community. Anne brings the charges before the school principal, Leslie Graham (Felicity Huffman) — a go-getter who wants to protect the school’s rep and coffers. She proceeds cautiously and then tells basketball coach Dan Sullivan (Timothy Hutton) to slap a wrist or two.
This is the second season of ABC’s Emmy- and Golden Globe-nominated anthology, starring (mostly) the same cast from the first. (They’re playing different characters.)
MY SAY Much like the first season of “American Crime,” showrunner John Ridley takes some oceanic subjects — race, class, privilege, identity — and strips them right down to their bare essentials. He starts with a glandular, blunt-force fact — a mother believes her son was sexually assaulted — from which other stories radiate. Ridley then bores down deeper, right into the human heart, where partial facts and hazy information give way to emotions. More stories radiate from those.
And then, for his final trick — a doozy — he makes those conflicted hearts recognizable. You can almost hear his characters’ words before they’re spoken, and when they are, know the primal place they’re coming from: Fear, love, doubt, anger, anxiety, self-image, self-loathing . . . All those oceanic subjects suddenly come into focus and right down to eye level. They’re instantly familiar and intelligible, too.
Like the first season, there’s a “Crash”-like flavor to the storytelling, but it feels more organic this time around. You never get the sense Ridley is out to prove a point as much as to explore one. It’s almost as if he and his characters start from the same place, then grope their way toward the conclusion together.
There’s also a novelist’s touch but, because no one really wants to read a novel on their TV set, the superlative cast has to bring its game — and does. Huffman, King and Taylor are superb. This is a mother’s story, and a woman’s story, deftly told. And while you and I knew Andre Benjamin — Andre 3000 and formerly of Outkast — could rap, who knew he could act this well? The youngest members of the cast are excellent, but the one at the center — Jessup — stands out. Taciturn and lost, he’s a teenager with the whole world on his shoulders. His eyes alone tell you the weight is far too much to bear.
BOTTOM LINE Excellent, all around.