How many seconds does it take you to make up your mind about the life, story, and value of another human being? Can the color of someone’s skin affect the time you devote to understanding them? What does the death of another black boy bring to life, and to light, not only within fictional settings, but our own society?
These are the harsh questions that are asked of viewers of all colors in Veena Sud’s new and powerful Netflix original: “Seven Seconds.”
My first impression of Sud’s show was that it reminded me of her 2011-2014 TV series, “The Killing,” which is also a show that revolves around the death of a teenager. Sud’s two shows share many similarities – the grieving family, the secrets that surface from characters’ past, and the stubborn lead characters who push on until the mystery is solved. At some points, I felt that some of the characters within Seven Seconds were versions of the characters within The Killing, albeit of a different color and background.
But as I watched episode after episode, becoming fully engrossed in the story that was playing out, I saw the beauty and distinction within Sud’s new show. Although “Seven Seconds” feels a lot like “The Killing,” especially in the beginning, it grows into a tragic story of love, hate, violence, corruption, greed, and racial tension that distinguishes itself not only from Sud’s previous work, but other crime/cop dramas as well.
However, I felt that Seven Seconds moved at a much more satisfying pace, with each new surprise and twist exciting to watch, instead of exhausting to keep up with. The tension built up within the show is also some of the best I’ve seen on TV. For example, as the Black Lives Matter protests grew in size and sound outside the police station, the story moved closer and closer to a resolution, where characters were racing against time to either obtain or deny justice. The show also took the time to slow down, and dig into the aspects of characters that made them empathetic and realistic human beings.
Seven Seconds follows the story of what transpires after a white cop accidentally hits a black teenager with his car. The cop, Peter Jablonski (Beau Knapp), is understandably shaken by the event, but is rescued by three other cops, who tell him to leave as they clean up the scene of the accident in an effort to cover up Peter’s involvement in Brenton’s death.
Of course, the fallout of such a cover-up is tremendous, as Peter and his fellow cops struggle to maintain the cover-up while a black assistant prosecutor, KJ Harper (Clare-Hope Ashitey), and her partner, Joe ‘Fish” Rinaldi (Michael Mosley), get closer to the truth of Brenton’s hit-and-run.
The characters were moving, especially when it came to displaying the grief and regret of parents who lose their only child to violence. The mother and father of Brenton, Latrice (Regina King) and Isaiah Butler (Russell Hornsby), put on some of the best performances in the show. I was continually stunned by the amount of pain, tears, and anger they were able to express convincingly to the audience.
My favorite performance was Mosley’s ‘Fish’ character, a white, funny, caring, and persistent cop who almost never wavers in his conviction to bring justice to Brenton’s death. Ashitey also did a great job playing the more indifferent and flawed KJ, who often has to be lifted up from a drunken state of self-pity by Fish in order to continue seeking justice for Brenton.
For a show about the death of a black teenager at the hands of a white cop, Sud handles the themes of police brutality, corruption, and racial tension brilliantly. “Seven Seconds” never feels overbearing with its message about the sensitive topics that plague our country, but rather, makes its audience realize how assumptions and preconceived notions can harm and devalue the life of a human being. Although certain characters in the show try to bring out the worst in Brenton and paint him as a criminal and gang member in the eyes of the public, Sud succeeds in breathing life, depth, and value to the life of a black boy, even though we never see him alive in the show.
Read our interview with Russell Hornsby here.