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Accused, created by Howard Gordon and Alex Ganza of 24, along with David Shore of House, is an anthology drama where each episode shows ordinary people standing accused of crimes. The trick in this series is that we see them in the courtroom at the start of an episode, then we go back and see the extreme circumstances that got them there.


Opening Shot: Throngs of press surround a man walking into a courthouse.

The Gist: In the first episode, a gifted neurosurgeon, Scott Corbett (Michael Chiklis), is accused of a yet-to-be revealed crime; someone screams “Murderer!” as he walks into court and shoots paintballs at him. We flash back to Scott and his wife Lynn (Jill Hennessey) having to deal with their youngest son Devon (Oakes Fegley) being thrown out of school for threatening a female student online. Scott sees more and more evidence that his son is not OK, and in fact may be a danger to himself and others, but Lynn refuses to believe it.

After they find a manifesto-like notebook hidden in his room, along with Devon talking to a gamer friend about needing money, Scott determines that he needs to do something. He knows that Devon won’t get help and an involuntary psych hold will just delay whatever Devon is planning. He proposes that he and his son go camping at a gorge where they went when he was a kid, and even offers to pay Devon the money he needs. On the trip, though, Scott seriously thinks that pushing his son off a cliff will be better than keeping him alive; the decision he makes there, though, has extreme consequences.

In the second episode, directed by Marlee Matlin, Jenny (Megan Boone) and Max (Aaron Ashmore) find out that their newborn baby is deaf. Ava (Stephanie Nogueras), the surrogate who carried their baby, also happens to be deaf, and she still feels a connection to the baby. Her boyfriend KJ (Josh M. Castille) wonders if that’s postpartum depression paired with the fact that Jenny had a baby as a teenager, which she made available for adoption.

As she visits the couple, she finds out that Max has been lobbying hard for the baby girl to get cochlear implants, something Ava feels is wrong to do without the girl’s consent. She feels they should accept the girl’s deafness instead of surgically altering her to be more like them. When an argument between Jenny and Max gets intense, Ava does the only thing she thinks she can do to keep the baby safe.

Photo: Steve Wilkie/FOX

What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Accused is based on a 2010 BBC show of the same name. The format where each episode has its own story is more akin to Black Mirror or The Twilight Zone, but the stories are more related to anthologies with season-long stories, like American Crime.

Our Take: The gimmick of Accused, where we see the subject of the story in or around the courtroom, being accused of various crimes, isn’t what sets this apart from other anthology series we’ve seen in recent years. In fact, much of the courtroom stuff, interspersed throughout and then concentrated on near the end as we see the accused’s fate, is the weakest part of each episode.

What impressed us the most is that Gordon, who serves as the showrunner, and the various writers of each episode manage to tell a well-written, well-organized, fairly complete backstory within the constraints of an hour on a broadcast network, which in reality is 43 minutes. Often in anthologies of this format, story elements are skipped or resolutions come out of nowhere, as if the writers just ran out of time. The episodes of Accused we saw, however, didn’t feel like they had anything missing that would help us get into the story more or cast doubts on where things are going.

Are some of the characters a little broad? Sure, but that’s endemic to the format. In the second episode, for instance, Ashmore’s character Max is painted as a complete jerk, blaming his wife Jenny for not revealing that a great-aunt of hers was deaf then being insistent on getting the cochlear implants for their baby daughter. There isn’t enough time to provide background to Max’s jerkiness, aside from the fact that he’s a musician, but when writing a format like this, sometimes you need to go broad to get to where you want to go. Luckily, not every character is written that way, which makes having the broader characters forgivable.

We do wish that each story had a little more room to breathe before we dove into the courtroom part of each episode, because in both cases, there were logical leaps made, either in how the prosecution presented its case or how the case came to a conclusion. It’s typical of network dramas to depict trials and hearings in a way that any litigator or watcher of Court TV will tell you, is completely unrealistic. But when laypeople like us roll their eyes at what they’re seeing, that’s a problem.

Sex and Skin: None.

Parting Shot: The final shot of the Chiklis episode spoils plot, so we won’t mention it here, but it’s about as bleak as any ending we’ve seen on network TV.

Sleeper Star: In the first episode, Robert Wisdom plays Mitch Becker, Scott Corbett’s colleague and close friend. He gives Scott a lot of sage advice, even as — for some reason — he’s shown getting dialysis.

Most Pilot-y Line: In fact, that dialysis scene still bugs us a bit. It’s a bit of character development for Wisdom’s character, sure, but it feels like it comes out of nowhere and adds nothing to the overall story. Makes us wonder if there was more to the character that didn’t make the final cut.

Our Call: STREAM IT. Because Accused manages to tell the story of how the accused in each episode finds themselves in that position, and does so without a lot of gaps, makes the series worth a look.

Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.


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