Happiness is a Warm TV

Review: New season of ABC’s ‘American Crime’ – debuting Sunday – is set in NC

Benito Martinez as Luis Salazar in the third season of ABC’s “American Crime.”
Benito Martinez as Luis Salazar in the third season of ABC’s “American Crime.” ABC

The third season of ABC’s exceptional anthology series “American Crime” focuses on immigration and labor issues, sex trafficking and addiction – and it’s all set right here in North Carolina.

The new season, which starts at 10 p.m. Sunday, opens with a group of immigrants crossing the Mexico border into Texas and being taken to a way station, run by Americans, who get the immigrants to farm jobs. The story immediately focuses on Luis Salazar (Benito Martinez), who insists, despite urgings that he go to California or Florida, that the smugglers get him to Carolina del Norte. As his story unfolds, we learn the very important reason why he came to America and why he had to go to North Carolina.

Season 1 of the John Ridley-created drama examined race, class and gender politics, all stemming from a horrifying home invasion and murder of a young white couple. The second season follows a story in which a young man is sexually assaulted by members of a basketball team at an elite private school, and shows how justice is often different for those of privilege.

For this third season, “American Crime” takes a tough – and timely – look at what life is like for immigrants who come to the U.S. for farm jobs, already in a deep financial hole when they arrive to pay the smugglers who got them here and the crew chiefs at the farms who will house them. Their living conditions are abysmal and their extreme vulnerabilities make them easy victims of a host of crimes.

The season also tackles sex trafficking by following teenagers on the streets who become sex workers to survive; they are also abused and exploited, but by pimps who control them. Two-time Emmy Award-winning Regina King returns, this time as a social worker named Kimara who tries to help the kids picked up in raids.

There’s also a story line involving a North Carolina furniture company, run by Nicholas Coates (Timothy Hutton), facing more and more pressure to cut costs (including labor costs) to meet consumer demands for low prices.

And finally, the topic of addiction is illustrated through a young man caught up in the migrant labor system and also through one of the owners of the large family farm business that employees the migrants.

Other cast members from previous “American Crime” seasons return, including Felicity Huffman, Richard Cabral, Lili Taylor and Connor Jessup.

My colleague Theoden Janes over at the Charlotte Observer did a deep dive on the new season of “American Crime,” including why the series was set here but could not be shot here (hint: it has nothing to do with tax incentives). The story is excellent and definitely worth a read.

And “American Crime” – a “prestige” drama that would be right at home on cable – is definitely worth watching.