"American Crime"—Using the newly minted anthology style of "True Detective," John Ridley's new series is a wide-ranging exploration of race, class and gender, a gratifying breakthrough for television that moves by means of slipstream portraits of a wide variety of lives.
The murder of a young man and the brutal attack on his wife in Modesto, Calif., reverberates through the victims' families and the community, revealing connections and conflicts both personal and political. The young man's father, Russ (Timothy Hutton), is thrust back into contact with his ex-wife, Barb (Felicity Huffman), a woman tightly wound around bitterness toward Russ, toward her past and toward a society that she believes values white lives less than others.
The other lives include an interracial couple, Aubrey (Caitlin Gerard) and Carter (Elvis Nolasco), bonded by love and addiction; teen-aged Tony (Johnny Ortiz) chafing against the high expectations of his father (Benito Martinez), and the young thug Hector (Richard Cabral), who we meet as he is using the dead man's credit cards. Each character has her or his own family and each family is riven with truths and secrets that the crime soon brings to the surface.
Even without the its provocative themes, "American Crime" would be notable in the stories it chooses to tell.
Ridley's writing and direction create separate worlds for each of his characters (the scenes of Aubrey and Carter's drug-fueled bubble are particularly affecting), while keeping them all very much a part of the same universe. But it's the level of performance, particularly from Hutton, Huffman and, later, Regina King, who plays Carter's sister, that prevents the politics and cultural statement of "American Crime" from overpowering its own story, which may be the real breakthrough of the series. ABC, Thursday, 10 p.m.
"Dig"—USA's international action thriller begins with one of the best opening scenes in recent memory — a group of Hasidic Jews trudging through the Norwegian snow to witness the birth of a red calf. And while it would be easy to say "you had me at Hasidic Jews in Norwegian snow," it just gets better. There's also a crazy guy (David Costabile) raising a boy in seclusion in the middle of the New Mexico desert, an archaeologist who may or may not be seeking the ark of the covenant, and Anne Heche as the complicated head of the FBI in Jerusalem.
Most important, however, there's Jason Isaacs, one of the most versatile and yet strangely underrated actors around. He plays FBI agent Peter Connelly, who has come to Jerusalem to leave personal heartbreak behind. So withdrawn and taciturn that his only friend is his supervisor (and sometime lover), Lynn Monahan (Heche), Peter is, as most of his cinematic peers usually are, in constant conflict with local authorities, including and especially Det. Golan Cohen (Ori Pfeffer).
With whom he will, of course, partner to investigate a very complicated "Da Vinci Code"-like conspiracy, unfolding in the world's holiest city, which is as much a character in "Dig" as any. Some serious themes, but also crazy good fun. USA, Thursday, 10 p.m.
"The Returned"—Carlton Cuse's remake of the French series "Les Revenants," which aired on Sundance TV in 2013, is astonishingly true to the original in story and quality.
In a small mountain town, the dead begin returning. Not lurching zombie-like in search of human brains, but slowly and in a state of great bewilderment, beginning with Camille (India Ennenga), a young girl killed in a bus crash four years before. She remembers only being on the bus and then waking in the mountains. Her family, including her twin sister, now a young woman, is torn by joy and shock and horror.
But the series is not only about the emotional and social implications of resurrection. As more and more people begin returning to their old lives, it becomes clear that something larger is occurring.
Though slightly less creepy than "Les Revenants" (which, admittedly, had the benefit of enigmatic children speaking in French), "The Returned" is creepy enough, mainly because, unlike many American remakes of European series, it respects the viewer's attention span and doesn't overplay its hand. Though perhaps a bit too much of a repeat for fans of the original, it's a fine, moody and provocative series for those who like a good ghost story, but without the subtitles. A&E, Monday, 10 p.m.
For the Record