'Seven Seconds' is Netflix's new well-acted downer

Clare-Hope Ashitey and Regina King in <em>Seven Seconds.</em> (Photo: Cara Howe/Netflix)
Clare-Hope Ashitey and Regina King in Seven Seconds. (Photo: Cara Howe/Netflix)

The grim tale of a child’s murder being solved by troubled people, Seven Seconds is this Friday’s new prestige Netflix project. Binge on this one over the weekend, and you might be excused by your boss for not showing up on Monday thanks to an emotional hangover. One bright victory for this new 10-part series is that it’s a great showcase for Clare-Hope Ashitey as a lawyer with a drinking problem and a complicated personal life.

The crime and who committed it are revealed early on in Seven Seconds. An off-duty cop (Beau Knapp) accidentally drives into a kid on a bike, killing the youth. His cop colleagues persuade him to cover up the incident. Why? The most corrupt officer explains his thinking succinctly: “A white cop and a black kid? Don’t you read the news?” All of the drama flows from this setup, with race and class and the vagaries of the judicial system providing the subtexts.

The agonized family of the dead boy is headed by Regina King, whose sorrow and fury have been tapped in similar ways in recent years in ABC’s American Crime and HBO’s The Leftovers. As the matriarch of a Jersey City lower-middle-class family, King’s Latrice Butler is a strong-minded churchgoer, but her strength and faith are sorely tested by grief and her encounters with the legal system. Ashitey’s K.J. Harper is the assistant district attorney assigned to the case, and the first time we meet her she’s drunk, so we know she’s not going to be the most efficient public servant to aid Latrice and her family in seeking justice for their son’s death.

Between the corrupt cops and the drunk lawyer, the movie comparisons start piling up. I began to wonder whether K.J. was going to be like Paul Newman in The Verdict — an alcoholic who pulls himself together long enough to secure a win. I started looking at all the scenes of cops sitting in crappy cars talking crudely and being reminded of films like Training Day and Copland. Seven Seconds was created by Veena Sud, the writer-producer who also oversaw The Killing, the show that made many of us aware of Joel Kinnaman and Mireille Enos for the first time. But The Killing had its flaws, so Sud is not a rookie when it comes to slow pacing and frustrating plot turns. Like The Killing, Seven features some great acting, and there are numerous strong scenes spread over its 10 episodes that periodically make you think, “Gee, this cast is awfully good. So why am I a little bored?”

Whether you get caught up in Seven Seconds depends on how impatient you are with its nods to other TV shows and movies it reminds you of. The series would certainly benefit from some editorial tightening — reducing its number of episodes to five or six would have made it considerably more exciting. As its stands, Seven Seconds is admirably acted, but it’s a slow grind.

Seven Seconds is streaming now on Netflix.

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