By Kristen Baldwin
April 18, 2019 at 10:18 AM EDT
CBS

Let’s start with the good news: A stuffy broadcast network hired a major TV star to play one-half of an interracial gay couple in a limited series that aims to explore inherent racial biases in the city of Chicago and America at large. Now for the letdown: Despite a strong performance from Noah Wyle, The Red Line allows its vigorous messaging to overwhelm the storytelling.

When African-American doctor Harrison Brennan (Corey Reynolds) is shot and killed by a white cop who mistakes him for an armed robber, his husband Daniel (Wyle) and adopted daughter Jira (Aliyah Royale) turn to the legal system for justice. Officer Paul Evans (Noel Fisher), meanwhile, continues on the job, too rattled to remember exactly what happened the night he encountered Harrison in the convenience store. The shooting also becomes a rallying cry for aspiring local politician Tia Young (Emayatzy Corinealdi), who shares a secret connection with Jira and her late father.

The Red Line, executive produced by Ava Duvernay and Greg Berlanti, raises a lot of ambitious questions over its eight-episode run. Is Paul explicitly racist or just a generally good man who made a bad call? How can Daniel understand the extent of his African-American daughter’s grief when he will never have the experience of Living While Black? Why are some marginalized groups, like the gay community, so slow to recognize their own internal biases? But the show juggles these extremely complex themes with a surplus of other stories — Daniel’s budding romance with a Muslim teacher (Vinny Chhibber); Tia’s campaign trail scuffles with the old-school incumbent (Glynn Turman) — so almost everything gets reduced to its simplest, often most stereotypical, terms. All white cops are hard-drinking Irish Catholics who protect their own. Every politician is on the take. Christians don’t like gay people, and so on.

It’s not easy to make an Important Show without preachifying — but it’s not impossible, either. The good ones, like ABC’s American Crime anthology or Hulu’s new comedy Ramy, highlight underrepresented perspectives through well-drawn characters, smart writing, and compelling stories. The Red Line is brimming with good intentions, but its execution never goes beyond the surface. B

The Red Line premieres Sunday, April 28 at 8 p.m. on CBS.

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