Like “The Killing,” the Danish series Veena Sud adapted for US consumption, the producer’s “Seven Seconds” opens with the death of a child, exploring the repercussions that follow. What emerges is a solid, overly dense, but occasionally surprising serialized Netflix drama, one that hinges on a police cover-up but which proves to be a bit messy in its incorporation of racial politics.
Set in New Jersey, the 10-episode series opens with a cop, Pete Jablonski (Beau Knapp), rushing to the hospital because his wife is having a baby. Distracted, he hits something, realizing to his horror that the car struck an African-American youth on a bike.
“No one’s gotta know,” the leader of his squad (David Lyons) says, worrying about the impact of a cop killing a black teenager, proceeding to mount what turns out to be a pretty inept attempt to cover Pete’s tracks. Part of that has to do with the way the knowledge preys upon Pete and other members of the unit.
The case quickly envelops a young African-American prosecutor (Clare-Hope Ashitey, a real find), caught up in bureaucratic politics; and a seen-it-all detective (Michael Mosley) assigned to investigate. The story also expands to include the boy’s mother, Latrice, played by Regina King, in a characteristically powerful performance that, given the show’s bleakness, can’t help but mirror her work in ABC’s “American Crime.”
Because there’s no mystery as to what happened, “Seven Seconds” is preoccupied with the toll of that one errant moment, and all the pain that ensues. Eventually, the drama shifts into a courtroom setting, which simultaneously ratchets up the suspense and makes the exercise feel more conventional – like a more ambitious version of the “Law & Order” franchise.
Based on a Russian movie, the show endeavors to establish its American flavor with the tension between police and the African-American community, including the difficulty in holding law enforcement accountable, and the cops’ fear that one transgression will be used by activists to condemn them all. “Don’t you watch the news?” one asks.
Watching a lot of news, however, only makes the one-foot-in-reality aspects of “Seven Seconds” feel relatively pallid. And watching a lot of limited series, frankly, doesn’t work in its favor either, given the spate of shows (“Broadchurch,” “The Missing” among them) that have employed some variation of the central device to get the ball rolling.
The series still works, mostly, as a binge-able drama, thanks to the various twists and revelations about characters, including the victim; and the general strength of the cast, led by King and Ashitey, a British actress with a very bright future. It also helps that Sud tells a self-contained story, avoiding the Lucy-and-the-football scenario that irked many fans of “The Killing’s” first season.
“Seven Seconds” definitely has its moments. It’s just that in this age of quality-TV abundance, the argument for committing 10 hours to consuming them isn’t quite a slam-dunk case.
“Seven Seconds” premieres Feb. 23 on Netflix.