Seven Seconds, the new Netflix original drama that premieres Friday, is not a great show. In fact, it's not even a very good show. But what's most disappointing is that the series has all the ingredients to be something powerful, even profound. Whatever potential the show had to begin with unfortunately gets mired in a sluggish, overwrought plot and characters who are developed too heavy-handedly to be believable.
Seven Seconds is nothing if not timely, with events set into motion by a white officer from the New Jersey Police Department inadvertently running over a black teenager on his bicycle in a park one early morning. The show hails from Veena Sud, who created The Killing. Sud, who is of Filipino and Indian heritage, previously worked at Third World Newsreel, which focuses on films by and about people of color. Sud's fellow executive producer Gavin O'Connor, who is a white man born and raised on Long Island, was recently tapped to direct the sequel to Suicide Squad, directed the first episode. The second episode was helmed by the late, great Jonathan Demme.
But Seven Seconds' promising premise soon careens into a ludicrous cover-up plot perpetrated by villains so one-sided that they end up being outright cartoonish. In fact, the show offers a pretty bleak portrait of humanity in general. The majority of the characters are fairly one-dimensional — including, most disappointingly, the victim's mother, portrayed by Regina King. On the heels of American Crime, King delivers what seems like a rehashed take on the outraged mother who's trying not to come apart at the seams as she pursues justice. The actress, who typically embraces her roles with a powerful, riveting conviction that can be felt through the screen, is saddled here with clunky dialogue and eye-poppingly ill-considered scenes, including one in which she aims a gun at a chained-up stray dog.
Equally ill-served is Clare-Hope Ashitey (Shots Fired), who stars as prosecutor KJ Harper. We know KJ is battling some personal demons because we see her struggling with a hangover on the job the morning after getting blackout drunk and taking the stage at a karaoke bar. And then we see her... at the karaoke bar again, doing the same thing on a different night. By the third time we're back at the karaoke bar with KJ, one has to wonder if the editors made a note to cut two of those scenes and just simply forgot.
The one character who isn't a complete caricature and is actually somewhat two-dimensional is Joe "Fish" Rinaldi (Michael Mosley), a homicide detective who teams up with KJ and is faced with the difficult task of investigating his own colleagues. Their relationship is entertaining to watch unfold, and the writers wisely avoid sending the pair off into will-they-or-won't-they romantic territory.
The viewer's frustrations with the characters, are only exacerbated and amplified by the way the plot unfolds. It's clear that Seven Seconds is trying to be daring and edgy, but there's nothing here that we haven't seen before (though, granted, rarely all in one project). Rather than challenging stereotypes, in many instances the show exploits them. The question of why the teen was in the park to begin with, for instance, is answered in the final episodes, with a ~shocking twist~ telegraphed episodes prior, which only serves to shoehorn in some additional commentary about black masculinity at the (almost literally) 11th hour.
Which brings up another point: Seven Seconds' biggest flaw might be that it falls into the Netflix trap of being chronically overlong. Many of the episodes clock in at over an hour, of which 10 to 15 minutes could have easily been trimmed (See: The repeated karaoke shtick). A couple of the twists at the end - and there are a few - are actually pretty good, but it takes so long to get there that the payoff brings with it a sense of relief rather than surprise.
And yet, underneath all that muck, Seven Seconds has important things to say - about the U.S. justice system, about racial prejudice in law enforcement and in the country in general, about homophobia in the African-American community, and about tribal mentality affecting our communities. Netflix had a great opportunity to create a piece of thought-provoking art that would maybe make viewers question their own perspectives and internal biases, and it's a shame it got squandered. There's a great show lurking in there somewhere, but ultimately Seven Seconds fails to live up to its potential.
Seven Seconds premieres Friday on Netflix.