Spoiler warning: The details of the case discussed in this post will ruin the series’ suspense.
Everyone loves a good reason to be publicly outraged, and Netflix’s 10-part original series “Making A Murderer” gave many an opportunity to do just that. But let’s be honest: aside from the thrill of moral indignation that it provided, this show was actually awful.
To quickly recap, the documentary focuses around the story of Steven Avery, a man who was wrongfully convicted for rape, for which he served 18 years in prison. After the state determined he was wrongfully convicted and released him from prison, he then sued the Manitowoc County Sheriff Department for botching the investigation by concealing key evidence that would have ruled him out as a suspect.
While embroiled in the $36 million civil suit against the state, a female photographer was murdered. Avery was suspected, arrested, tried, and convicted for killing 25-year-old Teresa Halbach after her vehicle and charred bones turned up on his property. The documentary tediously unfurls the defense’s claim of Avery’s innocence while failing to show to its audience key pieces of evidence against him. A majority of the show’s runtime focuses on how Avery could have been set up by the same police officers who had it in for him 20 years ago.
Surprise! The Internet Overreacted
An overwhelming wave of frustration and moral indignation from the collective Internet followed in the wake of the show’s debut. These disaffected fans then channelled their fury into numerous petitions urging President Obama to pardon him, which he legally cannot do, since Avery was convicted of state crimes, not federal ones.
If there’s one consistent indicator that something is seriously off, it’s when the Internet gets universally outraged and takes to Twitter’s virtual streets, imaginary pitchforks in hand. The annoying frequency at which Avery’s plight was brought up in my news feed is enough to tip anyone off that this isn’t all that it seems.
To say that the filmmakers left out key pieces of evidence because it would make Avery look bad is an understatement. National Review‘s Christian Schneider put it well in writing that the “series essentially serves as Avery’s Super PAC.”
My colleague David Harsanyi recently explained a lot of the reasons why the series was biased and misleading. He even argues that Avery was guilty as hell, and cites the evidence that is revealed against him in the show as well as the damning evidence that is left out.
I disagree with Harsanyi’s assertion of guilt. I think he throws out the baby along with the bathwater, though I do give him much credit for pointing out that “Making A Murderer” was indeed awful. I even applaud him for infusing sanity into the conversation about the show by stating that it is entirely possible, even likely, that Avery did indeed kill 25-year-old Teresa Halbach.
Admittedly, I’m not completely convinced that Avery didn’t kill her, but the prosecution’s case they presented against him in court is totally unsatisfactory and a member from the jury that convicted him has since admitted that he did not think that Avery was guilty, but voted otherwise because he and other juror were afraid for their own safety.
Where the Show Went Wrong
To start, the wording of the title is annoyingly unnatural. Seriously, why isn’t there an “of” in it? Whoever says the phrase “making a murderer” in real life? It doesn’t sound like a proper title, either. Get over yourselves, Netflix; give us an “of.”
The whole thing just seemed to drag on and on. People claimed that it was addicting, but the show’s glacial pace makes this hard to believe. There was so much unnecessary B-roll footage that stretched the series out. The whole thing could probably be cropped down to about four or five episodes without compromising content. In fact, this is a pretty good visual representation of what it took to keep my eyes open for all ten episodes:
Another beef I have with the series is how it was constructed. The interviews with Avery and his family members often weren’t dated, making the timeline of events somewhat muddled. Without a narrator to the story, it’s presented from a third-person omniscient point of view, meaning that it feels like you’re an outside observer who gets to look down upon everything and know all. This is a bit misleading, as the biases of the filmmakers Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi have definitely influenced the film’s production. The two have spent the past 10 years documenting the case, even relocating to Wisconsin for two years, during which they developed relationships with the Avery family.
Unlike the podcast “Serial,” which feels more genuine in its efforts to present an unbiased account of a convicted killer who may actually be innocent, “Making a Murderer” feels like it’s intentionally hiding information. The podcast’s narrator, Sarah Koenig, reveals her own biases in order to help listeners discern which parts of the story she may have more heavily influenced. Viewers don’t get this kind of honesty from the Netflix series.
The show also left out key pieces of damning evidence against Avery, like how he intentionally set fire to a cat by pouring gasoline on it and throwing it into a bonfire (a fact that the series does its best to portray as an accident). He was also reportedly obsessed with the victim, using *67 to block his number when he called her several times the day she went missing and specifically requesting for her at work in the months leading up to her disappearance. Her phone and organizer were also found on his property.
I wish I could have back the 10 hours I invested in the series to spend on some mundane tasks, like watching paint dry or helping my mom peel the sticky tags from all of the Christmas gift-bags that we will shamelessly reuse next year. Either of those activities would have been more satisfying than forcing myself to watch this show. In short, “Making a Murderer” is terribly boring propaganda.
Yes, the criminal justice system is flawed and police can be corrupt and self-serving. Unfortunately, sometimes innocent people pay that price. Hopefully the revelations about the jury’s fears will give Avery and his nephew Brendan Dassey the opportunity for new, fair trials that don’t relay on coerced confessions or potentially planted evidence.
But let’s stop calling for Avery’s immediate release or for his crimes to be pardoned because of a biased — and boring — Netflix documentary, because it’s only fanning the flames of injustice.