****SPOILER ALERT: THIS WRITE-UP WILL HAVE SPOILERS.****
Netflix’s original show Seven Seconds is the second television show that I watched purely because of the reactions on my social media timelines, with the first being This Is Us. I knew Regina King was in it and she’s a national treasure, but I had no idea what it was about, nor any real interest in checking it out initially.
But once it dropped, my Facebook feed was filled with people talking about how pissed or sad they were during various parts of the story. I decided not to read any reviews or articles about the show; instead, I downloaded the season onto my iPad, and during a recent trip to Los Angeles, I fired it up. I do love me some emotionally jarring television.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t Seven Seconds. Did it piss me off? At times, yes. Make me sad? At times, yes. But not much. But we’ll get to that.
The show itself is about an accident gone terribly wrong.
Peter Jablonski is a new transfer police officer in the Anti-Gang/Narcotics Unit of the Jersey City, N.J., Police Department. After a frantic call from his pregnant wife’s cousin letting him know that his wife, Marie, is in the hospital, Pete hauls ass through Liberty State Park and ends up hitting a black boy, Brenton Butler, riding his bike through the park. He knocks him into a ditch, critically injuring him, though his wounds ultimately prove fatal because the cops did nothing to help him, assuming that he was dead, but not caring enough to check.
Instead of calling for an ambulance, Pete calls the other folks in his police unit, and they leave the boy for dead after trying to clean the scene so no trace of Peter having done anything wrong exists. Basically, cop accidentally hits a black kid on a bike, then leaves him for dead, and they all bounce and craft a cover-up.
Obviously, the political tones are clear and present. A white police officer killing a black kid. Parents losing their children. Civil unrest. Black Lives Matter. State prosecutor’s office trying to create a case against cops. The media painting the young black boy as a gang member, etc.
It’s a combination of the last six years’ worth of headlines in America. And like many of the stories, the conclusion is the same: In Seven Seconds’ conclusion, the cop who killed the kid gets sentenced to 364 days but is up for parole in 30.
The acting on the show is superb in parts. King is great as Latrice Butler, Brenton’s mother, who struggles with the new reality of life without her only child. And Clare-Hope Ashitey is good as K.J. Harper, the troubled assistant prosecutor in charge of trying the case. And “troubled” is underselling it; she’s a functioning alcoholic in over her head, though she pulls it together when it matters most. She also sucks at karaoke. And Michael Mosley as Joe “Fish” Rinaldi, the detective working the case, is pretty good, too.
But the show itself gets weighed down by a few factors.
For one, it’s just too long. It’s 10 episodes that easily could have been cut down to six. It’s so slow and plodding in parts, and they created some unnecessary drama that dragged out episodes unnecessarily.
I remember when I was young and late-night television started with In the Heat of the Night followed by Matlock. In my head, they’d find the bad buys on the In the Heat of the Night and then Matlock would take them to court. And then Law & Order came along, and did both in the same show. And all was right with the world.
Seven Seconds is basically the longest Law & Order episode ever. The format is even the same. The show opens with the commission of the crime, and we have to wade our way through the mucky waters of the trial’s completion. And that makes for good television; it just doesn’t need to be 10 actual hours in which much of it is navel-gazing into too-long episodes of pain and suffering or conversations intended to further establish plot points we’re already well aware of.
Even with the cops who we know are dirty and suck, they spend a lot of time trying to show us how dirty they are. Which I get, but I think there was some overkill in terms of making sure we are sure they suck.
The show’s writers were very dedicated to showing us just how each character operated. Like, you see how I’m spending a lot of time explaining the same shit over and over? That’s Seven Seconds.
I think some of that affected how emotionally invested in some characters I managed to get. I didn’t really like anybody that much by the conclusion of the show.
Now, I was pissed at the police cover-up and frustrated at how true to life it felt, but I expected that and wasn’t surprised by it.
When Peter Jablonski takes the fall for his fellow cops, I wanted to throw something at the screen, but I also knew that was going to happen. And hell, he only got 30 days in jail. As much as that pissed me off, I expected that.
There are a few scenes, though, like when K.J. is describing something that’s tortured her as a prosecutor, where her lack of due diligence results in the death of a baby who died because of lack of food in a house for a week. Her description had me on an airplane tearing up.
Because Regina King is involved, I’m tempted to always say, check her out. I mean, she’s been around my whole life. We might as well be family. But you’ll have to be prepared for just how slow and how much of a labor it is to get through some episodes as you think to yourself, “Does this episode need to be longer than an hour?” It doesn’t.
If you love Law & Order and don’t want the episodes to end and want to see more of the main characters’ flaws, Seven Seconds is your bag. If that doesn’t interest you but you heard the show is good, then just know this: White cop kills black kid and gets a slap on the wrist.
Wash. Rinse. Repeat.