Accused, the new drama from 24 executive producers Howard Gordon and Alex Ganda and House creator David Shore, offers a fresh take—at least by American television standards—on the typical legal procedural. Based on the BBC anthology series of the same name, the Fox courtroom drama has been promoted as “a fast-paced provocative thriller,” exploring a different crime with an original cast in a different city each week. And over the first five episodes that were presented to critics for review, the show largely lives up to its billing as a promising freshman series, telling a diverse array of stories that illustrate the blurring divide between guilt and innocence in today’s world.
The first third of the season introduces a set of protagonists who, for a 42-minute episode on network TV, feel relatively well-defined: a neurosurgeon (Michael Chiklis) who suspects his teenage son may be planning to commit a violent crime; a Deaf surrogate (Stephanie Nogueras) who decides to intervene when the hearing parents of the Deaf baby she carried want to try an experimental surgical procedure; a drag queen (J. Harrison Ghee) who falls for a closeted man leading a double life, which is essentially a remake of a story in the BBC series; a father (Malcolm-Jamal Warner) who decides to retaliate against a man who sexually assaulted his 10-year-old daughter; and an aging rockstar (Keith Carradine) trying to stop his drug-addicted adult son from falling into old habits.
Each case is told from the perspective of, yes, the accused, a framing device that lends itself to propulsive (and often soapy) storytelling and gives every installment a certain sense of urgency as the jury inches closer to a verdict. And much like the original BBC series, the versatility of Accused’s episodic format allows for tales that are almost always contained to a single installment. This short time commitment has opened—and will continue to open—the door for accomplished actors who may be put off by the longtime demands of most series. (Billy Porter and Marlee Matlin, for example, each direct an episode, and Michael Chiklis directs and acts in several). But in this era of peak TV, it’s hard not to think that a show with little connective tissue between stories and varying levels of star power might work better on streaming than broadcast.
Nevertheless, the act of unfolding different tales about people from marginalized communities—Black, queer, Deaf, Indigenous—only benefits from having people behind the camera with many of those same lived experiences. For instance, in “Ava’s Story,” Matlin uses silent shots to illustrate many key moments from the perspective of a Deaf woman navigating a world (and a legal system) that isn’t set up for her to succeed. With Matlin’s support, Nogueras delivers a stunning performance, showcasing the nuances of Deaf culture and the unintentional, detrimental impact that hearing parents can have on their Deaf children with how they choose to talk about and frame deafness. Warner gives another particularly heart-wrenching lead performance in “Keith’s Story,” also starring Wendell Pierce, which delves into the nuances of policing for Black men living in the U.S.
In each story, there is more often than not a sense that people are wrongfully accused, that other folks in their lives are to blame, that these individuals were at most accomplices or accessories to the crime rather than the main perpetrators. This leaves some cases, which initially appear to amount to a big climax, to end on an unsatisfying note—one that feels more optimistic than true-to-life (although the fourth and fifth episodes might signal a change in this regard). And instead of simply chronicling the wrongfully accused, this anthology (so far) would benefit from delving into those who are rightfully charged like in the BBC series, asking viewers tough questions about what it would take for them to commit a crime.
Accused premieres January 22 on Fox.