Pilot of ‘Shots Fired’ an Ambitious Mess

An unarmed white man is shot and killed by a black police officer, prompting an intense investigation by the Department of Justice. Meanwhile, a black teenager was killed by a police officer months ago, and police have swept this under the rug.

This is the general premise of “Shots Fired,” a new ten-part drama on Fox that premiered on March 22. The subject matter of the series is particularly relevant today. But how is the actual show? Well, you can’t deny that the pilot episode of “Shots Fired” is ambitious. However, it ultimately poses way more questions than it can answer, leading to an episode that is too muddy and cluttered to say anything substantial about its topic.

The episode opens with the aftermath of the shooting of Jesse Carr by Officer Joshua Beck. Soon after, Special Prosecutor Preston Terry teams up with Ashe Akino, a cop-turned-investigator, to figure out whether racism informed Officer Beck’s actions. Immediately, an interesting conflict is set up between the two: Terry wishes to put aside any feelings of loyalty or obligation and find out the objective truth, while Akino wants to find the truth but also hopes to support the black community in the fight against racism. However, the episode doesn’t really do much to develop this dynamic. Instead, it has the two characters go on their own separate paths.

The episode introduces many more ideas than it develops. A handful of questions are raised regarding racism, police brutality, and corruption. However, these questions are never really answered, and even when they are, they often contradict each other. For example, a pivotal scene involves a white woman and a black woman putting aside their differences and uniting as a way to show that humans shouldn’t be governed by racism, but rather by a love for people. However, throughout the entire episode, the very protagonists of the episode undermine this idea by wantonly accusing all kinds of people of racism.

In addition, the episode introduces other subplots to try to cover more themes, such as family, but these have so little substance that that they end up just cluttering the runtime. There are a few short scenes involving Akino and her daughter’s father, who are fighting over custody of their child. However, not only is the audience not invested enough in the character of Akino at this point, but this storyline is so detached from the rest of the situations and themes of the episode that there is no possibility for emotional weight and meaning.

Nevertheless, Sanaa Lathan turns in an exceptional performance as Akino. The nuance that Lathan brings to the character perfectly displays Akino’s pain in her more personal moments, but also suggests that there is a significant backstory to the character that has shaped her into who she is. On the other hand, Akino’s public face is one of both power and determination, and Lathan brings a sense of authority to the character. Stephan James also delivers a solid performance as Preston Terry, offering a stoicism that fits his stubborn character.

Ultimately, the pilot episode of “Shots Fired” introduces many great ideas, but fails to expand on them, instead becoming an overstuffed setup for the rest of the season. There is a lot of potential here, with a myriad of interesting topics that have room to grow in later episodes. Although the episode itself is mediocre, this pilot sets the stage for what could be a great overall season and series. And given that this is what a pilot is supposed to do, this episode can be seen as a success.

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