While Paul Haggis’ 2005 Oscar-winner Crash was a pretty terrible film, with a few tweaks, it might have made for a terrific television pilot. The biggest problems with the movie—an over-reliance on lazy character stereotypes and unlikely coincidences used every time the movie needed dramatic juice—are practically de rigueur for television pilots, where writers have less time to establish a universe and must rely on shorthand to get certain points across, with the hope that in future weeks, they’ll get to deepen those characters.
Instead, the series just stretches all the worst things about Crash out to a full season of television. TV shows so rarely talk forthrightly about race that even a heavy-handed show that confronted it dead-on could be intriguing. Instead, Crash the series has mostly sent racial issues to the back burner. Sure, there are scenes in every episode where someone engages in a bit of racial stereotyping (seemingly for old time’s sake), but the series is mostly dominated by the sort of by-the-numbers plotting that seems to trap lots of networks trying to tread the ground HBO and FX have broken.
Crash has also carried over the film’s very loose structure, but again, stretched it out so far that it damages the series. In an attempt to include every major racial group in Los Angeles (including gypsies!), the series sets up a large number of unconnected storylines that intersect haphazardly and seemingly at random. There’s Dennis Hopper as a bombed-out record producer, a couple of white yuppies realizing the dream has died, a bunch of ethically challenged cops, and even an illegal immigrant from Guatemala, but all these characters pretty much spend the entire run of the first season in their own worlds. Unlike in the film, when they do come together, the series doesn’t even try to use the connections to bring meaning to the characters. Instead, it opts for a vaguely mystical sense that everything is connected.
If anything salvages this series, it’s Hopper’s bugnuts performance. He’s clearly reached the point where he just doesn’t care, and he turns a storyline that should be a snooze into something bizarrely funny, though it isn’t clear that the creators intended it that way. It’s no surprise, then, that the series’ one genuinely enjoyable episode, its seventh, is pretty much The Dennis Hopper Show, as he drives into the desert in search of a shaman and ends up angrily berating a scorpion and hurling invective at his driver. Hopper can’t salvage the series entirely, but he’s good enough to make it approach camp, which is more than anyone else manages.
Key features: A behind-the-scenes documentary, an alternate ending to the finale, and a season-two “preview” consisting of exactly one shot.