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Schouborg, Gary (2017).

"American Crime and Lonesome Dove: Two Tales of Relationships".



American Crime and Lonesome Dove:

Two Tales of Relationships




Gary Schouborg



American Crime (2015 …) is a first-rate series out of ABC, somewhat surprisingly, since its characters are more complex than we usually expect from the major networks. Like one reviewer observed, it seems much more like an HBO or some other cable original. My wife Nini and I loved the first two seasons, with different story lines each season. To our delight, we just read a report that there is going to be a third season.


What I most like about the series is the way its characters are both smart and obtuse just like the rest of us. They are not stupid, as in, “How could anyone who’s supposed to be that smart be so stupid?!” In American Crime, people misunderstand one another just as they do in real life: not from being stupid, but from not being sophisticated enough or just plain patient enough to consider all the angles in a complex interaction. American Crime is drama, and definitely not didactic. Yet it could effectively supplement an academic class on how people interact when under pressure in an unfamiliar situation.


The mind does not naturally associate American Crime with another TV series, Lonesome Dove (1989).  Yet a friend stimulated me to compare the two when he complained that the latter lacked a plot. In recognizing that he was right, and wondering why I had not experienced that as a lack, I realized that there is no plot in life. We do not usually die at the culmination of a project whose end coincides with our death and which gives complete meaning to our life.


Admittedly, there is a narrative involved in driving cattle to Wyoming; but that just organizes the evolution of personalities who may or may not survive the movie. We become emotionally involved with them not primarily through any plot, but through who they are and how they relate to one another. Just like life. There may be various projects in our life, but not an overall, guiding plot. The same for Lonesome Dove. That is why Woodrow Call’s (Tommy Lee Jones) taking Gus’ (Robert Duvall) body back to Texas wasn't anti-climactic, which it would have been if the central engine of the movie had been a plot about their herding horses to Wyoming. The return of Gus’ body was so exceptionally moving just because it was carrying forward something much more emotionally involving than a plot: the keeping of a promise to a life-long friend by a man who was left behind and facing the decline of his life.


American Crime is not involving in that way, but depends more on plot. Its characters’ mix of smart and obtuse is not so much emotionally involving as interesting, if you happen to notice it while following the action. But by showing the complexity of human interactions, and in a way that does not drown us in complexity by being explicit about it, it is an exceptional account of how we interact with one another.