Every episode of FX's Fargo begins with a title card claiming that the events depicted on the show actually occurred — despite the fact that everything about the show is completely fictional. On the same network, the upcoming American Crime Story: The People V. O.J. Simpson wears its "ripped from the headlines" realism on its sleeve, adapting one of the most infamous murder trials in American history. So, where on this confusing spectrum does ABC's American Crime fall? Is it also ripped from the headlines, like the FX show that practically shares its title? Is it completely fictional? Or somewhere in between? It's a good question: Is American Crime Season 2 based on a true story?
Season 1 of the anthology series told the story of a murdered war veteran and the spiraling investigation and far-reaching consequences that ensued in Modesto, California. While the explorations of racial tensions, differing religious beliefs, drug addiction, and our society's treatment of veterans were pulled from real life, the actual murder and investigation depicted in Season 1 had no basis in reality. This is a trend that will continue in Season 2: while the plot itself isn't pulled from the headlines, the themes the new season will examine are all very much hot-button issues in our country right now... and that's exactly how showrunner John Ridley planned it.
This year, the "American crime" in question won't be murder; instead, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of 12 Years A Slave will be addressing rape. The show will transplant from inner city California to the suburban Midwest — Indianapolis, Indiana, to be exact. The season kicks off when a public school student accuses two members of a private school's championship basketball team of sexually assaulting him at a party. In an interview with Variety, Ridley said that he originally conceived of highlighting a female rape victim, in light of the allegations against Bill Cosby, but changed his mind as he and the series' writers started outlining the season. "We really thought, if we were going to try to tell a story that is as provocative as it can be, are there other things that we can say?” Ridley said when he broke the news of Season 2's plot last August. “We started looking into cases where there was peer-to-peer sexual assault among men. As difficult as it is for society to deal with it among women, for men, every single issue is magnified."
Although the fictional case isn't based specifically on any one true story, the process of writing the season did involve interviewing a lot of victims and their families — and even including some of them onscreen too, as Ridley explained to Collider. "The interview in Episode 2, with Taylor [the character who is assaulted] talking to the sexual assault nurse, is a real sexual assault nurse, really walking him through what a real examination would be like. In Episode 4, the young man doing the spoken word piece is a real survivor of assault. There is a real blend this year between the narrative and the reality," he said in the interview.
The new story swaps out Season 1's themes of racism, religion, addiction, and war for themes of class, sexuality, youth, and education. These themes are so prevalent and relatable that some people are already drawing parallels between Season 2 and real life, even though the case is completely fictional. "Ridley is setting his show at a fictional elite private school in the Indianapolis area, which brings to my mind a real hazing case: two assaults of a single player by members of the boys basketball team at my alma mater, an elite public school, Carmel High," said Forbes contributor Bob Cook last month. "The 2010 case had everything Ridley says he wants his series to have — supposed good kids at a good school accused of doing bad things, an examination of socioeconomic and racial issues (the player assaulted was black; three of the players accused of doing the assaulting were white, and one was black), and questions whether the school, the town and many of its citizens were putting their reputations above the health and welfare of the victim."
In real life, the case didn't end very well for the assaulted student. "The players accused of assaulting their teammates ... resulted in misdemeanor pleas and no jail time," Cooke said. "The victimized players’ parents unsuccessfully sued the school, with federal courts stating there was no case because there was no evidence administrators knew of the conduct as it was going on." Here's hoping that things turn out better for American Crime's fictional victim... but knowing how Ridley never shies away from realism, they probably won't.
Images: Ryan Green/ABC (2)