Episode Guide (Click The Links For Full Recaps)
Split across four feature-length episodes, When They See Us is a brutal, sobering look at racial inequality within the American Justice system. It’s something we’ve seen numerous times in other formats, including documentaries and feature films, but with When They See Us, Netflix brings this to life in a raw and devastating manner that really hits home. With the usual stylish flair you’d expect from the streaming giants, an eclectic selection of early 90’s hip hop and ugly social inequality rife during this time in America, When They See Us is an eye-opening series, one that’s as difficult to watch as it is engrossing.
Coerced into admitting to a rape they didn’t commit, five black teenagers are pinned down for the rape and severe assault of a white jogger running through Central Park at night. With their stories failing to add up and the police under pressure to make an arrest, they coerce all the teenagers, some of which under the legal age, into admitting to the crime and hurriedly put them on trial. The episodes then take place across four key moments of the case – the arrest, the court trial and two more episodes that predominantly revolve around the outcome of the trial. For those unknown to the story I won’t spoil this here but suffice to say, these are considerably slower although no less as powerful as the first two.
Following the stories of the victims, the narrative shifts to each of the five boys and the acting from almost everyone involved certainly helps this one stand out. There’s a great effort here to make sure this series stays true to the original story and everything, right down to Trump’s campaign to bring back the death penalty for the boys, is accurate and poignant. It’s heartbreaking to watch these boys face insurmountable odds and seeing this injustice of the Justice System will undoubtedly bring up some heavy feelings from many watching.
Props to Netflix though for bringing this sort of forward thinking miniseries to the masses. Seven Seconds attempted the same thing, albeit on a more bloated and over-long run-time, several years prior while the infamous Making A Murderer is, of course, notorious for its depiction of corruption in police officers. To be honest, When They See Us feels much more closely aligned to TIME: The Kalief Browder Story. Of course, being a drama When They See Us builds empathy for every character, taking the time to flesh out the supporting cast along the way and delivering some excellent performances in the process..
Stylistically, there’s a really interesting use of reds and blues here, possibly to cruelly mirror the colour of police lights. It’s an interesting choice too, and one that constantly flits back and forth between the cold interiors of the police station and the warmer areas outside in the dimly lit Central Park. Coupled with the slick camera work, When They See Us is a very good looking show. Helping add to the style is the eclectic selection of 90’s hip hop too, which effortlessly bleeds into the world, helping to paint a realistic depiction of America in 1989.
When They See Us is a tough watch. It’s certainly aesthetically pleasing, which helps, but its the tightly written script and the way this stays true to the story that really makes this stand out. Given the ordeal these young boys went through, the final episode really rounds things out and adds a bitter cruelty to proceedings. I won’t spoil anything here but suffice to say it’s sure to leave a horrible taste in many people’s mouths. I mean that in the best possible way too because When They See Us is a very impressive series. It’s one that effectively tells its story across four perfectly paced episodes and spreads its story thinly enough to give it a bit of breathing room too. It’s not perfect, but it is one of the more important shows this year and one that deserves your attention.