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‘Shots Fired’ confronts issues of race

Tristan Mack Wilds (Fred Norris/Fox)

Television

‘Shots Fired’ confronts issues of race

Smart new Fox series shows early promise but veers off course in later episodes

It’s hard not to get frustrated with Fox’s much-promoted event series Shots Fired, which premieres March 22. The network previewed six episodes of 10 for critics, the first three of which make for sharp, topical, risk-taking television.

The story opens on an all-too-familiar scenario on our nightly news. A cop has just shot an unarmed youth in a racially segregated community. The twist is that the police officer is black while the teen is white.

Shots Fired isn’t afraid to dive into the kind of racial politicization we’ve seen in the last few years. The Department of Justice decides for the sake of “optics” to send a relatively inexperienced black prosecutor (Stephen James) instead of a more senior staff member to investigate. He makes some rookie mistakes, but his life experience, as well as that of his partner (Sanaa Lathan), gives him insight a white lawyer might not have.

At first, the show takes pains to share the perspectives of multiple factions. It also smartly and, at times, sympathetically shows how Christians living out their faith can lead to racial reconciliation just as it shows church leaders using the division to further their personal agendas.

The most convicting images of racism are often the subtlest, like a frat party where high, drunk, white college kids writhe and hook up to thumping gangster rap. They’re doing the same thing as the kids in “the houses,” the show’s name for the poor, black part of town, but they’ll rarely face condemnation for their immorality in the same way poor, black kids do.

Unfortunately, by Episode 5, the show takes a soapier, moralizing turn. The subtlety is lost. The prejudice on the screen looks campy rather than uncomfortably familiar, and the crimes of the cops become the stuff of left-wing conspiracy theories. It will be a shame if the writers don’t right the ship in the final four episodes and return to a story that is less knee-jerk villainizing and more realistic and challenging.