Seven Seconds is a gripping cop drama which is spurred along by its brilliant cast.
Gifted to us in its entirety, the 10-episode police crime drama series landed on Netflix, Monday, February 23. Seven Seconds is described as a racial crime drama set in Jersey City – tensions are high after a young African American boy is critically injured at the hands of a cop.
Early reviews of the first two episodes, placed Seven Seconds as a predictable laborious but not so bad show, so I definitely had my third reviewer eye open and yes, it is predictable. You know what’s going to happen. You know there’ll be a cover-up. You know we’re going to see a lot of black pain. We’re going to get racism and prejudice and white privilege and racist cops and a racist system which protects them. It’s tick-boxy. Politics, class, crime, racial inequality and bias, veteran displacement, corruption, gangs, religion, addiction, relationships, grief and even homophobia.
A lot to unpack but Seven Seconds does handle the main breadth of topics quite well.
Firstly we must commend British Blacktors Claire-Hope Ashitey and Zacharay Momoh for handling their roles with seasoned conviction. Ashitey leads the cast as assistant district attorney KJ Harper tasked to resolve the Brenton Butler case. Battling alcoholism, KJ is forced to ‘fix up’ by detective Joe ‘Fish’ Rinaldi (nicely played by Michael Mosley) who clocks that all is not as is being presented with this death. In KJ’s moments of clarity, Ashitey is brilliant and convincing. I loved her in Shots Fired, and I’m glad she’s getting deserved recognition in America, because well… we know how they do us on home soil.
However, the alcoholism put upon KJ seems like it was tacked on as an afterthought. It’s not really clear why she’s an alcoholic. There are glimpses into an estranged middle-class family background, a scene between KJ and her dad at a family get together implies that he’s scornful of her lowly position as an assistant DA. Then there’s a case she mishandled back in the day, and then there seems to be an affair that went left. All great reasons to become a raging alcoholic, I guess… maybe I’m biased, but for a black woman from a good family, the reasons didn’t seem ‘big’ enough for her to be so broken, especially to the point of almost ruining her career and not showering! Not saying it couldn’t happen but… you know what I mean!?
As a result, when the Brenton Butler case takes over and engages KJ, the transition from seriously dysfunctional alcoholic to a competent attorney isn’t noticeable. It pains me to reference looks, but Ashitey is as beautiful and perfect when she’s sprawled out on her living room floor in hangover position as she is in court, fighting her case. KJ didn’t need to be an alcoholic. It was a tool to tell the overall story, rather than KJ’s story. Not the fault of Ashitey, this falls on the writing and direction. I look forward to seeing her in her next role.
In contrast, Zachary Momoh repped by Identity Agency Group (which is steady stacking up on British Black talent doing amazingly well – Letitia Wright, Malachi Kirby, Damson Idris and of course John Boyega), fares better in his role as Seth Butler. Uncle to the victim. Younger brother to the victim’s dad. War veteran just returned home. Seth character isn’t particularly revolutionary but his isms are more thought out. He’s a former gang member who was backed into signing up for the army to avoid getting in too deep. His relationship with his brother Isiah (Russell Hornsby) is tense, as is his relationship with his former gang. Momoh is engaging in his angry, and tender moments, Seth serving as sort of the moral compass between his grieving brother and sister in law and helps touch on the issue of the displacement and lack of support veterans from working-class backgrounds face when they come home after serving their country. Gender equality, Momoh’s as beautiful looking as Ashitey. This will be seen as a break-out role for Momoh.
When we look to the rest of the cast, Hornsby and Regina King (Latrice) the heartbroken parents of Brenton are outstanding. Perfectly exploring the emotions a family goes through after having a young loved one torn away and the realisation that it was ‘murder’ by those who are supposed to protect us. King really is the 90s Viola Davis after starring in pretty much all the best 90s films including Boyz n The Hood to landing iconic stand out roles in Southland, The Leftovers, American Crime, Jerry McGuire and of course she voiced Riley & Huey in The Boondocks. What’s great about Isiah and Latrice is their battle with faith. We don’t often get black characters challenging God so honestly.
Everyone else, play their positions well. Particularly good is Beau Knapp as the guilty cop Peter Jablonski.
Seven Seconds is a macabre must-watch for those of us who in the real world see on repeat black people dying at the hands of the police and the police rarely to never being served impactful convictions. Though you know who’s guilty Seven Seconds details how these cases get watered down to almost nothing by the time they get to court. This is where it’s good. Where it fails is that you’re not ever quite sure if they’re going to go dramatic or serious. One minute it’s poignant and raw, next minute it’s melodramatic and lazy. It fights itself at times.
Still, a must watch.
All 10 episodes of Seven Seconds are available on Netflix now.