Scene & Heard

Pat Clark: “Crime” of speculation: Too soon to tell how Modesto will look

pclark@modbee.comJune 26, 2014 

Imagine my surprise: angry rants about Modesto being portrayed in a negative light and I, of all people, am playing devil’s advocate.

I’m feeling a little puzzled by myself, frankly.

Then again, it’s too soon to tell what the new ABC drama with the Modesto setting, “American Crime,” has in store for its depiction of the city. So, really, I’m playing let’s-just-wait-and-see advocate.

Here’s what we do know: ABC has a fictional show planned to air either later this year or early next called “American Crime.” It has an impressive Hollywood pedigree with award-winning stars in Felicity Huffman and Timothy Hutton, and was created by Academy Award-winning “12 Years a Slave” screenwriter John Ridley. It’s been called ABC’s upcoming “prestige drama.” It revolves around a brutal attack on a couple in their Modesto home and is centered on racial tensions, with a multi-ethnic cast.

And that’s pretty much it. Nowhere in the show’s description or in its trailer is Modesto referred to as a horrible place to live. There’s no reference to the city being at the top of most every negative rating list in America or at the bottom of most every positive one.

That’s not to suggest all those things might not come up; it’s just too soon to know.

This was the point I tried to make to my son and husband who, when the topic came up at the dinner table last week, were plenty fired up: Oh, sure, here’s another unfair attack on Modesto by people who don’t know what they’re talking about.

I tried to explain that it was too soon to speculate, but I barely could put together a cohesive comment because I was so shocked that I: a) didn’t expect them to react with such vigor; and b) hadn’t even thought to react that way myself.

After all, I’m the one who’s been the big Modesto booster in the house. I’ve also ranted a few times in this space about the way Modesto has been portrayed during the too-many, high-profile, real-life crimes that have brought droves of national media members with skewed preconceived notions to town. I’ve also ranted about those lists that leave the city sounding like a destination spot on a tour of Hades.

But we haven’t gotten a real idea of what Ridley – producer, writer and director of the new TV show – has in mind for Modesto, or even why he’s set it here. The trailer for “American Crime” doesn’t offer enough of a picture.

Still, reaction in Modesto has not been positive. Marijke Rowland’s story about the show in The Bee on Monday included frustration from our Stanislaus County sheriff. It also garnered irritated comments when it was posted on modbee.com and The Bee’s Facebook page. Our city police chief, however, did share my wait-and-see attitude.

Some of the negative comments were about how the show is set here, but is being filmed in Austin, Texas. Why not bring some dollars into the city if you’re going to use its name? Good question. One we’ll no doubt ask as we further cover this story.

Sure, all of the concerns that Modesto will be unfairly portrayed might turn out to be true once the show airs. But, what if – and paint me Pollyanna if you must – just what if Modesto is portrayed in a positive light? Or, what if it’s simply a word on a police uniform shoulder patch, nothing more than a reference point, neither positive nor negative, just a name used to portray Every City, USA?

Consider the name of this new show: “ American Crime.” It’s not “Los Angeles Crime” or “Baltimore Crime,” or any other city you can fill into the blank. From the title alone, we might – repeat, might – deduce that Ridley was looking to write a story based in a place that’s not a large, well-known metropolitan area, but instead a more typical representation of most any other town in the country we live in, filled with Every-men and -women.

Which brings me to a point I’ve argued for years about Modesto in the midst of each national-media Modesto-bashing blitz: Not every place can be a New York or a San Francisco or a Los Angeles, Chicago, San Diego, Boston or whatever destination city you want to name. The vast majority of the towns that make up America are just like Modesto – places with high points and low points, good people and bad people, and all things and people in between.

Modesto has a wide swath of individuals, representing numerous cultures and races. It covers a staggering range of socioeconomic levels, from billionaires to the penniless and everywhere in between. There is crime here; there is great humanity here. There is tension and there is harmony.

Just. Like. Everywhere. Else.

Maybe that’s what’s at the core of “American Crime” – and Modesto, for whatever reason, was chosen as its epicenter.

But right now it’s all just speculation. Right now, we all just need to wait and watch and see.

Reach Scene editor Pat Clark at pclark@modbee.com.

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