Like so many other dramas, American Crimestarts with a murder. In the opening moments of ABC's ambitious new series from Oscar-winning screenwriter John Ridley, premiering Thursday at 10/9c, a war vet is found murdered in his home with his wife left fighting for her life. But unlike so many of the series' predecessors, figuring who did it is just one piece of a very complicated puzzle. The show tells the story from the perspectives of the victims' parents, as well as those of the multiple suspects in the case, and everyone comes from different backgrounds, ethnicities, religions, etc. "The other mystery of this show is who are these people. ... None of us are who we appear to be," executive producer Michael McDonald tells TVGuide.com. "You're meeting these people as you meet people in your real life. You discover and learn the good and the bad and the truths about people as you spend more time with them."
McDonald spoke with TVGuide.com to properly introduce the key players on the series:
Russ Skokie (Timothy Hutton) Estranged from his family for many years after his difficult divorce, Russ had only recently started to make inroads with his son Matt before Matt's death. "[He] never really knew them as children because he was in prison and had abandoned them financially and left them alone with their mother," McDonald says of Russ' brief stint behind bars. "The little that he did know, he didn't know the truth about who his son really was, and he has feelings of: If he had only done something different as a young father, would the same results have happened?" Russ is "humbled" and determined to right his wrongs. "The heartache of his life is, once he did straighten his life out and did his time ... he was never able to repair the damage that he did to his immediate family," McDonald says. Russ and Barb's other son, Mark, will also be introduced later in the season.
Barb Hanlon (Felicity Huffman) Still icy toward her ex-husband for leaving her alone with two sons and little money, Barb is the most determined to understand what happened to her son. As she and Russ seek answers about Matt's death, they are also "forced to deal with the ramifications" of their marriage as they struggle with the secrets that are revealed about their son and his family. These secrets also force the former couple to confront their own past. But for all of Barb's obvious issues with her ex, she and Russ also struggle to find common ground with their daughter-in-law's parents, Tom and Eve Carlin. "[Tom and Eve] have always looked at them as a fractured and a broken family," McDonald says, citing Russ' gambling problems specifically. "I wouldn't say that they have turned their nose up at them, but they probably look down upon them as a working class family."
Tom Carlin (W. Earl Brown) A conservative, upper-middle-class businessman, McDonald describes Tom as a "a proud member of the establishment." A protestant Christian, his faith also plays an important role. "He relies on his faith and he does it in a way that is admirable and I think that we treat it with a lot of respect," he says. "I wouldn't say the word stoic; I would say he is an honest man of integrity." With his daughter Gwen in critical condition, Tom starts "finding out things about his wife and his daughter that he did not expect," McDonald says. "His daughter is not the pageant queen that she has portrayed and his daughter and his wife had a relationship that he was not a part of. ... He was not as fully aware of everything."
Eve Carlin (Penelope Ann Miller) Like her husband, Eve is very religious. Unlike her husband, Eve "knows the struggles and the good and the bad and the ugly," about their daughter. "It was a troubled marriage [between their daughter and Matt] and Tom didn't know anything about the struggles his daughter was going through, but the mother was a counsel and a friend to her and that's exposed publicly and it's very difficult for them," McDonald says. "They're a very solid relationship and they'll stay solid and they'll rely on each other and each other's faith to get through it, but it will cause a tension that they did not necessarily share everything."
Alonzo Gutierrez (Benito Martinez) A widower and a devout Roman Catholic, Alonzo and his wife came to America legally in their teens. "They came here through the system and have always stayed within the system," McDonald says. A business owner and a homeowner, Alonzo is "a believer in the system and that if you work hard and you don't break the rules, then you'll succeed," McDonald says. "He feels like he is living the American dream and he just wants to keep his children on the straight and narrow and wants to instill in them that same work ethic."
Tony Gutierrez (Johnny Ortiz) Because of his strict father, Tony is "a good middle class kid that is a little naïve too," McDonald says. "His dad's protection has kept him a little bit in a safe zone so he doesn't really know how hard it can be out there and how difficult the streets can be." Neither Tony nor his father have a criminal record, so when questions are raised about Tony's involvement in Matt's death, the entire family struggles. "I don't think he has any idea what's happening. Nor does his dad," McDonald says. "That's a big awakening for them as a family." Father and son's close bond will be tested. "To have it be exposed that your father is not as strong and can't protect you makes Tony start to question that relationship," he says. "As Tony gets into the juvenile system and becomes more part of that world, I think Alonzo is more afraid of, maybe, he doesn't know who his son is."
Hector Tonz (Richard Cabral) McDonald predicts that Hector will be the "most surprising character" to viewers. "In the pilot, he has tattoos. He's a little bit of a gangster. He's in jail. We don't know what's going on with him," McDonald says. "He's a very complicated person. There's a heart of gold underneath that man and there's a lot of emotion wrapped up in why he's doing this." He may do questionable things, but "this is the only way he knows how to get by and it's not out of choice," McDonald says. "One of the things about this character that we wanted to do is present a stereotype to some degree and peel back the onion and realize who this man really is."
Aubry Taylor (Caitlin Gerard) A free spirit who "wants to experience everything" and a "rebel," according to McDonald, Aubry is rarely seen without her better half, Carter. "That's the only person who really loves her and she's going to hold on to him as tight as she can," McDonald says. "She came out of the foster care system so when people come through that, they never really feel safe, and because they never really have a home, they never really have someone who they feel really truly loves them." It doesn't help matters that both Aubry and Carter are addicted to drugs. "When you look at people who are addicted to drugs, they tend to be addicted to feelings and emotions," McDonald says.
Carter Nix (Elvis Nolasco) The allegations against Carter in regards to Matt's death will pit his significant other, Aubry, against his sister, Aliyah (Regina King). "He had a job. He had a fiancée and when he met Aubry, she exposed him to this life of not just drugs but of living life to the fullest and of not being so shackled to the system," McDonald says. "A strong black Muslim woman," Aliyah will first pop up in Episode 3 to "try to pull [Carter] back to the world he once had before these two found each other," he says. Carter once had a very close relationship with his sister, when he was in his teens and 20s, after the death of their parents. "She had no faith and he found this faith in this woman and in this drug culture and this living on the edge of society, and I think [Carter and Aliyah] come together in a way that is very powerful," McDonald says. "It's a beautifully heartbreaking relationship to see them try to get through this experience with her brother in prison. She has very strong beliefs, preconceived beliefs about race that we examine, and I think that plays into their relationship, too."
American Crime premieres Thursday at 10/9c on ABC.
VIDEO: American Crime creator previews his new series