Why You Should Watch 'Shots Fired' Even Though It's Canceled

'Shots Fired' offers a powerful depiction of police brutality and corporate corruption

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Stephan James, Sanaa Lathan and Will Patton in a scene from 'Shots Fired.'
Stephan James, Sanaa Lathan and Will Patton in a scene from 'Shots Fired.'Credit: Sundance Institute via AP

When T.S. Eliot declared April to be the cruelest month, he had clearly never worked in television. Because as anyone in Hollywood will tell you, May is way, way crueler.

In mid-May every year, the TV industry performs the kind of cull normally reserved for political circles and Japanese whaling fleets. Underperforming shows are unceremoniously axed; so-called bubble shows (teetering on the edge of renewal or cancellation) are dumped for failing to bring in the “key demo” of 18- to 49-year-olds; and expensive shows are either dropped, downsized or sold to other networks.

Then, with indecent haste, the shows replacing them are paraded in front of the media and ad buyers during the “Upfronts.” It’s so brutal and coldhearted, the only surprise is that no one has turned the whole process into a reality TV show.

This year’s purging has been particularly bloody. So bloody, in fact, that even hardened fans of “Game of Thrones” were forced to look away. Here are 25 shows that won’t be returning to our screens next fall – and if you haven’t heard of them, maybe you’ll understand why they’ve been canceled:

“2 Broke Girls”; “American Crime”; “Blacklist: Redemption”; “Chicago Justice”; “The Catch”; “Conviction”; “Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders”; “Doubt”; “Dr. Ken”; “Emerald City”; “Eyewitness”; “Frequency”; “The Get Down”; “The Great Indoors”; “Imaginary Mary”; “Incorporated”; “Last Man Standing”; “No Tomorrow”; “The Odd Couple”; “Reign”; “Rush Hour”; “Scream Queens”; “Secrets and Lies”; “Shots Fired”; and “Sleepy Hollow.”

Allow me to say a few words in memory of the recently departed: How many black cats did “Doubt” star Katherine Heigl run over when she left the “Grey’s Anatomy” set for the last time? And was “Conviction” (and “Agent Carter”) star Hayley Atwell a passenger in her car? ABC said it was canceling “Last Man Standing” because it decided not to continue with comedy on Friday nights – so does this mean the Tim Allen vehicle was meant to make us laugh? With the small-screen failure of “Rush Hour” and “Frequency” (and “Training Day,” which probably would have been canceled before the death of star Bill Paxton), will TV execs be less lazy in the future, or will they be inspired by the comparative success of “Lethal Weapon”? The green light for a remake of “S.W.A.T.” suggests the latter. And finally, did the producers of “No Tomorrow” not think the show’s name might be inviting trouble?

With the kind of timing rarely seen since the Sergius family from Rome bought their Pompeii summer home in the spring of 79 C.E., Israeli cable network Yes announced its premiere dates for “The Great Indoors” and “Shots Fired” the same week the cancellations were revealed. Suddenly, the accompanying blurb of “Only on Yes!” seemed all too prophetic.

Should the fact that these shows have been canceled stop you from watching them? After all, it does run the risk of making things even more painful if you fall in love with them. (Unfortunately, this is just one of the economic realities of television. Can you imagine being in a cinema and being told they’re not showing the final reel because there weren’t enough young people watching the ads beforehand?)

The good news about “The Great Indoors” (Yes Stars Comedy, Saturdays at 19:05 and Yes VOD) is that you will definitely not form a deep attachment to it even if you superglue yourself to the TV screen. Comedy? I’ve seen funnier car crashes.

The series plays like something that was rejected by a kids’ channel so they added a few barroom scenes and PG-13 relationship issues. I watched the first three episodes in stony silence, despairing of the wasted talent and lame one-liners.

Joel McHale (“Community”) plays Jack, an intrepid adventurer-reporter who gets forced to work with a group of nerdy Millennials when his magazine downsizes to a website. He’s meant to be like Bear Grylls, but his one-note performance is barely watchable.

A long shot

The comedy’s only surprise – other than that it actually lasted 22 episodes – is that it features British comedian and former “QI” presenter Stephen Fry as a drink-loving publisher (I know, radical move).

Fry was recently the subject of a police investigation in Ireland after a member of the public accused him of making blasphemous comments on Irish television. That inquiry was soon dropped, but any officer watching “The Great Indoors” will have a far better case against Fry for wasting police time.

Way better is “Shots Fired” (Yes Stars Drama, Mondays at 21:15 and Yes VOD), a topical drama about cop killings, by the husband and wife team of Reggie Rock Bythewood and Gina Prince-Bythewood. (The show was commissioned as a limited series, meaning you can watch it knowing you’re not going to be left high and dry by a cliff-hanger ending.)

The cynical among us would argue that it was always a long shot that a network TV show inspired by the Ferguson riots and George Zimmerman trial would make it back for a second season. There’s a certain worthiness and potential preachiness that hangs over a project like this, so it’s to the show’s immense credit that it generally avoids these pitfalls (especially as the 10-part series progresses).

The program wrong-foots the viewer right out of the gate when it shows a black cop (the only one in the small town of Gate Station, North Carolina) shooting a white college kid during a stop and search. But lest you think this is Fox television at its very “All Lives Matter” worst, it is soon revealed that a black kid was also recently gunned down by cops, and the investigation into the deaths forms the heart of the show.

“Shots Fired” is blessed by two charismatic leads (Stephan James as a rookie district prosecutor and Sanaa Lathan as his investigator) and a host of strong supporting characters (Richard Dreyfuss has served up more ham than any other person in the history of Judaism, but he’s on form here as a Dick Cheney-channeling real estate mogul). It all builds into a powerful depiction of an America in which police brutality and corporate corruption are never far from the surface.

The show’s most powerful episode is “The Fire This Time” (episode six), which was the final work of filmmaker Jonathan Demme (“The Silence of the Lambs”), who died on the very day his episode aired in the United States.

Sure, “Shots Fired” could have been more hard-hitting if it were on cable TV and didn’t need to sanitize the violence and racism, but it remains a powerfully effective show. Tune in, even if it is only a one-shot deal.