Making A Murderer: Season One - Online Review
Making A Murderer: Season One is a complex beast of a show, which deserves both lengthy analysis and ultimately to be found wanting. No matter how page-turning this might be, no matter how from within the zeitgeist it seems to come, Netflix's Documentary series offering struggles to present itself as anything other than a chronological courtroom trawl and, more worryingly, an invitation to become judge and jury, with half the facts. The narratives which have sprung up around the show are varied and numerous, but many of them have one thing in common. They don't discuss the show at all.
That is because first time film-makers Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi are inherently wedded to subject Steven Avery, a man who you are shown within the first episode to have been wrongly imprisoned for eighteen years, in a case which expands beyond wrongful identity and into wilful negligence. As Avery is finally released and begins to take on the state, Demos and Ricciardi tell the story of what happens next, eventually pivoting during a run from episode three to episode eight, which takes in a court case mixed with the usual cast of heroes and villains. And that's just the lawyers.
At its most successful, Making A Murderer successfully taps into the newly resurgent scepticism around the police, particularly within the US, and the nagging suspicion that the 'modern' legal system is not designed to work for the innocent at all. The belligerence of the prosecutors within the case is only outweighed by their occasional stupidity. Motions are dismissed and objections raised by the defence with such ease on occasion that you wonder if the prosecution understand the system within which they move. These aspects are presented exactly as they need to be; as inferences for us to glean from the documented happenings, subtext in the overt docu-drama occurring on screen.
The series is much less successful in its attempts to side with Avery and draw us into his conspiratorial defence. At ten episodes long (some of which creep over the hour mark) the series trundles on too far and yet still can't put us fully in to the picture. There's just no way of giving us the full material on show at trial in this medium, which makes the idea that we must judge (and we must: the only question being posed to you here is 'is Avery innocent?') a little preposterous. Demos and Ricciardi present no new investigative evidence to substantiate the show's clear belief in Avery, merely some new interview footage with family and legal advisers and frequent intertitles which are as leading as the prosecutions' cross-examinations. If part of the subtext of the show is that manipulative legal arguments are a long way from the presumption of innocence we should all be entitled to then Making A Murderer's own arguments are weakened by a reliance on the very same tricks over substantive new research.
There's something too that feels a little sour about Netflix's involvement in this, a feeling which will potentially increase as the service increases its output over coming months and years. This show is everything Netflix wants. It's as 'share worthy' as a Marvel property, controversial and binge-watch ready. But it's also flawed journalism, sub-standard reportage and very indicative of first time Documentary-maker mistakes (but writ large over ten episodes: there's no room to hide here). At some point Netflix will need to decide if they stand behind volume and audience satisfaction, or show quality.
Making A Murderer: Season One is currently playing on Netflix.