Sympathy for the defendant
By the time the viewer joins Accused, the protagonist of the episode is already on trial, having stumbled down a path they never imagined possible: Kidnapping. Murder. Aiding and abetting. The charges seem simple enough, but the hour that follows shows that anyone, given the right—or wrong—circumstances, can find themselves in an impossible situation.
The question asked by producers Howard Gordon (24, Homeland), Alex Gansa (Homeland) and David Shore (House) is: What would you do?
Global“Every week, viewers will meet a new character in a new setting, someone who is just like any of us until that person’s life is suddenly upended by a choice they make that changes their life forever,” says Gordon. “Rather than being passive bystanders, our viewers will be actively engaged as invisible jurors challenged to lean in and find out, moment to moment, what really happened.”
Based on the 2010 BAFTA-winning series from the U.K., Accused takes you on an emotional ride where the goal is to conflict the viewer, as the case does the juror tasked with deciding the fate of the defendant. But beyond that general premise, it was up to each director to shape their own story. “Acknowledging that it’s an anthology that has a format uniformity, we wanted, at the same time, to give all the filmmakers and all the storytellers and the diversities of locations and tones its own vocabulary,” says Gordon. “It really was finding that line between a set of parameters and giving the storytellers the latitude to tell the story in the best way possible.”
GlobalThe American version of Accused is talent-heavy both in front of and behind the scenes. Rachel Bilson, Abigail Breslin, Wendell Pierce, Margo Martindale and more grace the screen, while Marlee each direct an episode. “To tell these stories as authentically as possible, we actively looked for creative partners who could bring their own unique experiences to the process, both in front of and behind the camera,” Gordon explains. “We were lucky enough to attract some real heavyweights and trailblazers.”
Matlin makes her directorial debut with “Ava’s Story,” an episode about a deaf surrogate accused of kidnapping the child she gave up, whereas Porter directs “Robyn’s Story,” an episode about a Black drag performer. “I read the script, and what I loved so much is that it fit right in line with my intention as an artist and where we are as a culture,” says Porter. “It’s time for the people whose stories are being told to tell their own stories. So, when I read this queer story, and they actually called a Black queer person to direct it, it was an immediate ‘Yes’ for me, because I get to shape these narratives and control these narratives in the most authentic way possible.”
GlobalFor Chiklis, who also stars in the series premiere, the experience of acting in vs. directing the show was singular in nature. “One of the things that was really refreshing as a director is I didn’t feel constrained,” he says. “When I’ve directed episodes of, say, The Shield, that was a very specific template and you had to really adhere to it. Because [these are] standalone featurettes, there was a huge difference in terms of tone and tenor between the pilot episode that I starred in as an actor and the episode that I directed.”
Reservation Dogs writer and director Tazbah Chavez took her involvement a step further, writing the episode she directed, about a group of Navajo friends who are arrested for protesting the local uranium mine. “I thought that this was a really cool opportunity to shed a light on an environmental issue that I think has gone largely overlooked,” she says. “The episode serves as a cautionary tale not to repeat the past, and we made a conscious choice to put this in 2022 to make it very present and create a sense of humanity at the core of these issues.”
GlobalFor Chavez, choosing her cast was once again proof that accurate representation is possible, when pursued with intention. “For so long, we’ve been told there aren’t Native actors. And if you want to get Tribal-specific actors, that’s even harder. But we pulled it off—three of our four leads were actually Navajo actors playing Navajo characters,” she says. “What that ultimately did was create a certain comfort and energy on the set and a trust that’s hard to replicate.”
GlobalIllustrious as his career has been, Gordon counts the experience of allowing often-marginalized communities to pierce the airwaves as a genuine highlight. “The opportunity for this show to be the Trojan horse for these voices and these stories has been one of the most incredible pleasures of my career,” he reflects. Simultaneously, he has no doubt that these tales will appeal to all viewers, regardless of background. “[Fox] gave us, like, the green light but insisted that every one of these stories has to be something you’re dying to tell,” says Gordon. “I feel like that metric and, really, the north star stood for the duration of the whole show.”
Accused premieres Sunday, January 22 on Global & Fox