Making a Murderer is a unique series that succeeds both as a thought-provoking documentary and as a gripping and entertaining ‘crime’ story
Since Making a Murderer’s December release, online debates, petitions, and verdicts have bombarded the web, making it easy to spoil the story for the uninitiated viewer and even harder to review it without mentioning key events. Nevertheless, the basic facts are these: Wisconsin man Steven Avery, released from prison after serving 18 years for a sexual assault he didn’t commit, is the focus of this 10-part documentary that delves into the unsavoury practices of the US justice system.
All the components of a compelling crime documentary are present. The sweeping shots of a dusty Wisconsin landscape and unnerving soundtrack create an eerie backdrop to the crimes. Binge watching becomes compulsory due to episode ending twists, and attachments to characters are created by clever pacing, which prioritises storytelling over any time constraints. What makes Making a Murderer even more compelling than other recent hits like True Detective or House of Cards, is that these are real people, and real events, and are therefore even harder to forget once we return to our normal lives.
Making a Murderer portrays events organically as they unfold due to the 10 year filming period, without rushing or hand-holding the viewer. As a result, when the twists come, they shock and amaze with maximum impact without feeling forced or exaggerated. The patient opening episodes give viewers the opportunity to judge the characters themselves, whilst never dropping the intrigue and suspense. As the show progresses, it becomes increasingly distressing to watch, but at this point the viewers’ attention is firmly secured through the skilful execution of key events that play out in real time to ramp up the tension.
Whilst Making a Murderer has the intended effect of transforming viewers into armchair detectives, there are issues with essentially trying to present an entire trial from start to finish. The show fails to provide context and interviews for one half of the trial, which effectively causes viewers to forget who the real victims are and places blame where it is unfair to do so. Some manipulation is expected, however, since Making a Murderer is essentially a piece of entertainment and—contradicting the way some fans are discussing the show online—is obviously not going to be used as evidence in the trial.
The experience of watching Making a Murderer is so consuming that at times I had to remind myself that I could walk away with my freedom intact. After sitting through the relentless 10 hours, the inevitable despair about the state of the US justice system was combined with a burning desire to plunge into the depths of the web and join the thousands of internet users in uncovering the truth. Despite being highly disturbing and presenting a questionable representation of the trial, it is this refreshingly emotional reaction, alongside the eye-opening depiction of the US justice system, which makes Making a Murderer a genuinely unique and exciting TV event, and the new benchmark for future crime documentaries.