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Finely wrought new Netflix crime drama 'Seven Seconds' is like a spiritual cousin to 'The Killing'

Finely wrought new Netflix crime drama 'Seven Seconds' is like a spiritual cousin to 'The Killing'
Clare-Hope Ashitey plays a prosecutor and Michael Mosley a Jersey City police detective investigating a hit-and-run accident in Veena Sud's Netflix drama "Seven Seconds." (Cara Howe / Netflix)

Veena Sud, who developed AMC's "The Killing," has a new series, "Seven Seconds," 10 episodes to binge on Netflix starting Friday. That is easy to do, graced as it is with well-wrought characters, wonderful performances, a keen sense of place and weather, and the old familiar questions of who gets justice, if anyone gets justice, and who receives their comeuppance. Sud teases your desire for answers, even as answers are not really her point.

Viewers familiar with her previous show will find thematic and structural elements repeated, and many of its pleasures — to use that word advisedly, but not ironically. Once again, a crime is the occasion for character study, at its center the now-wary, now-warmer relationship of two partnered investigators.

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Although their peculiar traits have been differently apportioned between assistant prosecutor KJ Harper (Clare-Hope Ashitey) and Det. Joe "Fish" Rinaldi (Michael Mosley), this is as spiritually close to a reunion of "Killing" detectives Linden and Holder as you could ask for without getting Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman, who played them, back again. They have wonderful, aggravated chemistry; there are more seasons in them, if that’s where “Seven Seconds” is headed.

Once again, there are lost children and careless adults, crumbling marriages, hangovers, self-serving politicians, dedicated and dodgy cops. And like "The Killing," which was based on a Danish series, it takes inspiration and shape from a foreign source, in this case the 2013 Russian film "The Major.”

Beau Knapp plays a cop with a secret in the Netflix drama "Seven Seconds."
Beau Knapp plays a cop with a secret in the Netflix drama "Seven Seconds." (JoJo Whilden / Netflix)

Here's how it begins: Peter Jablonski (Beau Knapp) is driving distractedly through a snowy Jersey City park in what, on a sunny day, would be the shadow of the Statue of Liberty when he hits something — a black teenager on a bicycle, it eventually transpires, named Brenton Butler. (The character shares a name with a black Florida teenager who in 2000 was coerced into confessing to a murder and later acquitted; there may be intention in the choice, but this is not that story.)

Police arrive on the scene as he waits in his car, and it seems for a minute that Jablonski will turn himself in. But he turns out to be one of them, the rookie member of an elite narcotics squad whose names would serve for the cast of an old World War II film: Jablonski, Diangelo (David Lyons), Osorio (Raúl Castillo) and Wilcox (Patrick Murney). And, as in an old World War II film, none of them are black. So he is sent, weakly protesting, on his way, while the others clean up.

Butler is discovered the next day, bringing together our raggedy heroes, Harper and Fish — lonely outsiders catching what looks at first, especially through the filter of her exhaustion and his cynicism, like a nothing case. She's the black sheep of an upper-crust African American family, drinking too much, showing up late and unprepared to court. He has come to Jersey City from the NYPD after a divorce. She is moody, hungover; he's a needling, jokey chatterbox who has filled his bachelor apartment with senior rescue dogs for love.

The case also takes them into the orbit of Brenton's churchgoing parents Latrice (Regina King) and Isaiah (Russell Hornsby). They have moved from a worse neighborhood to a better one, though the single-minded hard work that brought them there has left Isaiah more remote from his family, including brother Seth (Zackary Momoh), a soldier with a gang-related past just back from the Middle East.

Clare-Hope Ashitey is a prosecutor trying to get justice for parents Regina King and Russell Hornsby in the Veena Sud drama "Seven Seconds."
Clare-Hope Ashitey is a prosecutor trying to get justice for parents Regina King and Russell Hornsby in the Veena Sud drama "Seven Seconds." (JoJo Whilden / Netflix)

"Seven Seconds" is not as formidably packed with misdirection as "The Killing," whose entire first season was a red herring. Here we know the essential facts of the case from the start (which is not to say we know everything essential), while the progress of the story involves the characters catching up with the viewers. There are of course things we will only learn as they do.

"The Killing" incorporated headline-ripped topics – it looked like it was going to involve terrorism, until it didn't – as well as topics that should have been headlines. (Homeless teenagers were central to its third season.) But like that show, "Seven Seconds" portrays a world determined by social systems without becoming a Social Drama. Systemic flaws are the foundation of the story but are not the story itself.

It’s not accidental that the police here are mostly white; that they and the media impugn the character of the black victim; and that there are protests and protesters tear-gassed and billy-clubbed, but none of the characters stand in for an idea or represent a whole class of people. Each falls somewhere on the spectrum from flawed to totally messed up, yet the worst of them believe they're doing some sort of good. And most, at a stretch, are.

Sud offers characters coming to terms with themselves – even their coming to terms with one another is a matter of evolving self-knowledge and abandoned prejudice, of moving from a more limited to a more generous view of the world and their part in it, or at least a less blinkered one. Still, the consequence of evolved self-knowledge is not necessarily pretty.

Like “The Killing,” this is ultimately a story about families and surrogate families and improvised families — the comfort they offer and the damage they do. “Seven Seconds” does keep you in suspense with the expectation that bad things will happen, and they do. Nevertheless, the series is more hopeful than not. To find out just what that means you’ll have to watch. I recommend you do.

‘Seven Seconds’

Where: Netflix

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When: Anytime, starting Friday

Rating: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17)

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