Hit or Sh**: Netflix’s MAKING A MURDERER
In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.
If anything can be said about pop culture in the past two years, it’s that we’ve finally stopped being shy about our love of true crimes and grisly murders. The crime procedural has always been part of the mainstream (LAW & ORDER has been on for 25 years!), but the True Crime Procedural has only just recently started having its time in the sun.
Perhaps it was SERIAL, Sarah Koenig’s THIS AMERICAN LIFE spin-off boasting “one story told, week by week.” It turned podcasting into a viable medium and stole the hearts and minds of many American podcasting skeptics with a very personal investigation of the death of Hae Min Lee. Or maybe it was Andrew Jerecki’s THE JINX, HBO’s foray into the genre centering on the bizarre life and times of millionaire heir Robert Durst and his relationship to three separate homicides. THE JINX, while ethically questionable, was a surefire success for HBO and cemented the true crime genre as part of the pop culture lexicon for years to come. Both series had a role to play in what comes next.
True detecting, however, has taken some steps back
Netflix enters the stage with MAKING A MURDERER, a documentary series that takes what made SERIAL Season 1 and THE JINX popular and strips them down to their core elements. Gone are the stylish reenactments of THE JINX and the “host as character” parts of SERIAL. In their place? A whole lot of footage. Like an ungodly amount. It bothered me that this was a docu-series that took over 10 years to make, but then I considered the sheer amount of content that the two creators, Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, collected, and it begins to make a lot more sense. MAKING has a whole lot more heart than THE JINX, but it is much more rough around the edges. It’s a lot more conclusive than SERIAL Season 1, but far less satisfactory. It’s the current Netflix darling and the perfect cap for what was already a very strong year in programming for the company.
Sub Pop contract impending
MAKING A MURDERER concerns one Steven Avery: a troublemaking but good-natured member of the Avery Family, denizens of Manitowac County, Wisconsin. Steven initially earned the ire of the Manitowac police (aside from the ire he already elicited by being a member of the Avery family) by intentionally running an officer’s wife off the road. From here Steven’s imprisonment for sexual assault and attempted murder seems like a leap, but is ultimately inevitable. He’s typecast as a killer and a criminal and treated as such, when really he’s just different. Poorer, less educated, but not evil.
The pilot covers Avery’s initial imprisonment, the possible events that might have contributed to it, and the lawyers’ efforts to prove Avery’s innocence and uncover elements of collusion by law enforcement. It’s not wholly engaging, but since all of the interviews and footage are from the years following, there is an ominousness that pervades the entire episode. Things are bad now, but they are about to get much worse. This is what makes the pilot difficult to review. The story of this first episode is interesting, but pales in comparison to what comes afterwards and how complicated the Avery story gets. The pilot’s cliffhanger is more subtle than what one would want knowing what’s coming down the line. It’s even harder when you take into account the binge-watching that we associate with Netflix. Does a less than ideal pilot matter when the next episode is going to automatically play?
It does, and MAKING A MURDERER, for all the heart and bite that it has, suffers from a lower quality of production when compared to the likes of THE JINX. It solely uses found footage, photos, and interviews to tell its story. It’s serviceable, but not very inventive. It also asks more of its audience as well, requiring patience and most of all, undivided attention. MAKING is not a story that unfolds evenly or easily, but that makes it all the more rewarding when you are able to follow along and become suitably shocked alongside the Avery family and the various lawyers involved in the case. This is perfect example of the truth being far stranger than fiction, and whatever this pilot lacks in style it makes up for by having an engaging, and frankly depressing, story. MAKING A MURDERER is the best kind of true crime story; one you’ll wish desperately to be fake.
MAKING A MURDERER is available to watch in its entirety on Netflix