Hit or Sh**: FOX’s SHOTS FIRED

In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.

shots fired

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In theory, FOX’s new police drama SHOTS FIRED should be the most relevant show on television. A procedural show (excuse me, “event series”) that takes an unflinching look at police violence, with two black leads and a relatively diverse cast, sprinkled with references to real-life headlines and victims. Everything about the show implies that it will overflow with the juicy social justice commentary that premiere networks and streaming services like HBO and Netflix have always enjoyed greater access to. without the draining presence of sponsors. But if executed properly, SHOTS FIRED has the elements necessary to stand out amongst the recent influx of Shows with Something To Say. Despite the confinements of primetime network television, this pilot gets something of an earnest message across without decisively taking a divisive stance on its core event: the shooting of an unarmed white college student by the only black police officer in a majority-black North Carolina town.

Whether for the sake of having a more balanced conversation or just to make a more interesting story, SHOTS FIRED eschews the racial dynamic we’ve come to expect from police shootings. I initially thought that it was a cheap way to elicit more sympathy from white audiences on the issue, but what redeems this decision is the show’s acknowledgement that the shooting is different. Our first protagonist, a straight-laced rookie DOJ lawyer named Preston Terry (Stephen James), gets assigned this case not just for his expertise, but because the governor believes that only a black lawyer could convict a black officer without causing outrage. He’s partnered with veteran wild card investigator Ashe Akino, who we quickly learn has killed an unarmed civilian herself. This predictable “hardass/wildass” duo is the first of many disagreeable aspects that make SHOTS FIRED, at times, difficult to take seriously. Others include Ashe’s spontaneous romance with Preston’s brother, overly corny one-liners, and unnecessary melodrama shoehorned into plotlines.

shots fired hardass

Will the hardass use the phrase “by the book?” Will the wildass have family problems? The answer is yes, both of those things already happened

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Between the two leads and a supporting cast of police and community members that span the political spectrum, SHOTS FIRED gives voice to both sides and emphasizes basic empathy for lost loved ones over concrete solutions. At first this struck me as an “All Lives Matter” style minimization of racial inequality. Having a fair discussion does indeed involve hearing out both sides, but to present both sides as being equally true and valid ignores the reality of the situation. Regardless of where anyone falls on this issue, it can hopefully be agreed that the majority of the suffering in these situations falls onto those slain and their loved ones. And significantly more people of color are killed by police than vice versa. It simply has happened more. So knowing that, an accurate show should give more weight to the community’s suffering than the police’s, though to ignore the hardships of law enforcement outright would also be fallacious.

But then I realized something. SHOTS FIRED doesn’t really establish any villains in the pilot, but the least morally sound characters are all police. Reading about the show later, I found that later in the series, Richard Dreyfuss comes in as a private prison owner looking to make a deal with the governor. This implies that SHOTS FIRED will be examining the evils of the criminal justice institution while humanizing those that carry out its will. Another incredibly tricky subject that I’m not sure can be wholly tackled in a network drama.

shots fired hbo

Have I made it clear that I’m a fanboy yet?

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Had this been an HBO miniseries, it would have been exemplary. But in its current state, SHOTS FIRED is merely good. Past the police tropes lies a very earnest desire to talk about tragedies, and it seems like we will eventually get to having that talk. The pilot was too inundated with melodrama for me to give this the stamp of approval, but the series as a whole has laid the groundwork for something refreshingly poignant.

Verdict: Sh** Probation

SHOTS FIRED airs on Wednesdays on FOX

Dan Blomquist is a guest contributor for Crossfader and writes about important things sometimes, but mostly about television. He believes that memes are the future and that free will is an illusion.

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