Thursday, May 24, 2018
TV and Media

Review: 'Making a Murderer,' True Crime on Netflix

Making a Murderer fairly bursts at the seams. You get the feeling that filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, after spending 10 years working on it, couldn't bear to part with a single jailhouse phone call or videotaped interrogation. Their documentary's 10 episodes, which went up on Netflix on Friday, often push past an hour, clocking in at 64 or 66 minutes. If you're planning to binge, clear some extra time.

The serious long-form true-crime documentary is the glam genre of the moment, coming off the success of HBO's six-episode The Jinx and NPR's 8 1/2-hour podcast, "Serial." But watching Making a Murderer is a different experience. Even in the age of the high-quality limited series, it's rare to come this close to the feeling of reading a book — immersive, compulsive and unpredictable but also exhausting and sometimes mundane and repetitive.

For the most part, the series's novelistic qualities carry the day. The real-life tale that Ricciardi and Demos found (through a 2005 article in the New York Times) is endlessly layered and confounding, with a large, rich cast of characters, who take turns carrying the story.

The title reflects a central question about Steven Avery, the Wisconsin man whose three-decade battle with the justice system provides the series' framework. Convicted of rape and other crimes in 1985, he served 18 years in prison before being exonerated by new DNA evidence and becoming a prime exhibit for the importance of innocence-project investigations.

But just two years after his release, he was charged with murder in a new case, and in 2007 he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

The series presents the two popular explanations for Avery's seemingly counterintuitive story. Assuming that he was indeed innocent of the first crime, did the many years he spent wrongfully imprisoned change him into someone who would commit a brutal murder? Or was he made into a murderer — in other words, framed — by the law enforcement officials of Manitowoc County, Wis., who were angered and embarrassed by his exoneration and a subsequent lawsuit he filed against them?

The conspiracy story is where the drama is, of course, and it's the through line of the series. Its convolutions are mind-bending, and the evidence for police and prosecutorial malfeasance is both abundant and elusive.

Making a Murderer has several other stories to tell as well. One is a familiar tale of social class and provincial small-mindedness, with the middle-class denizens and institutions of Manitowoc County united in scorn against the Averys, who owned an auto salvage business and were thought of as the hillbillies on the edge of town. When the filmmakers need a bridge between interviews or courtroom scenes, their constant fallback is footage of the salvage yard, acres of junked cars scattered across the green Wisconsin hills.

That visual tic is representative of the straightforward, not terribly imaginative sensibilities of Ricciardi and Demos, who use twangy guitar music to emphasize the Midwestern Gothic trappings of their story and indulge in too many moody shots of the exteriors of jails and courthouses. (They also lean heavily on local television news reports as a narrative crutch.)

But they make up for it with tenaciousness. Their obviously exhaustive pursuit of telephone recordings and interrogation and courtroom video yields a succession of astounding scenes, and they insinuate themselves into the lives of the Avery family in a way that pays steadily mounting emotional dividends.

And that, finally, is the real distinction of Making a Murderer: its almost Dickensian account of the tragedy of the Averys. The uniformly stoic family members shift allegiances over the years, while Steven Avery's parents, as movingly bewildered and terrified as any fictional creations, steadfastly believe in their son's innocence, even as their long battle takes down their business and any sense they may have had of belonging to a community.

Avery, heard mostly in prison phone calls and exhibiting a blank affect that leaves you uncertain about how to read him, becomes a secondary character as the series goes along. In his place, his parents, a teenage nephew who becomes ensnared in the second case, the nephew's mother and so on take center stage in a story whose astonishing twists and turns are balanced by acute anguish.

Avery's nephew Brendan Dassey, goaded into a confession by highly questionable tactics seen on tape, tells his mother that he was "guessing" what the interrogators wanted.

"That's what I do with my homework, too," he adds.

In heartbreaking moments like those, questions of guilt and innocence, although they're the heart of the series, begin to seem remote.

Comments
Sports on TV/radio Tuesday, May 22

Sports on TV/radio Tuesday, May 22

TODAYBaseballRed Sox at Rays7 p.m.Fox Sun; 620-AMIndians at Cubs7 p.m.ESPNMarlins at Mets7 p.m.FSFRockies at Dodgers10 p.m.ESPNCollege baseball, conference tourneysSEC: Texas A&M vs. Vanderbilt10:30 a.m.SECACC: Pitt vs. Georgia Tech11 a.m.Fox SunSEC:...
Published: 05/21/18
There’s a new ‘Bachelorette’ contestant from St. Petersburg

There’s a new ‘Bachelorette’ contestant from St. Petersburg

When ABC’s reality dating competition The Bachelorette returns next week, the pool of 28 contestants vying for love and roses from Becca Kufrin will include a fitness trainer who lives in St. Petersburg. Here’s what we know about 25-year...
Published: 05/21/18
Here are some of Harry and Meghan’s official wedding photos

Here are some of Harry and Meghan’s official wedding photos

LONDON — Kensington Palace has released three official wedding photographs taken of Prince Harry and the former Meghan Markle shortly after their wedding.Alexi Lubomirski's images include a family portrait of the couple with Queen Elizabeth II,...
Published: 05/21/18
Yes, Harry Styles (that Harry Styles) will executive produce a sitcom on CBS this fall

Yes, Harry Styles (that Harry Styles) will executive produce a sitcom on CBS this fall

Washington PostThe most unusual executive producer on a new fall show for CBS? Harry Styles.Yes, that Harry Styles. The 24-year-old pop artist, the breakout star of boy band One Direction. Anyway, the sitcom is called Happy Together. It stars Damon W...
Published: 05/21/18
Have your favorite shows been canceled? Here’s a breakdown by network

Have your favorite shows been canceled? Here’s a breakdown by network

Last week brought the up-front presentations, when broadcast networks show off their new fall series to advertisers and, less ceremoniously, dump dozens of others. This year the bloodletting included beloved sitcoms and high-concept dramas, and the ...
Published: 05/18/18
Updated: 05/21/18
Summer TV preview: For your viewing pleasure, a look at the lineup

Summer TV preview: For your viewing pleasure, a look at the lineup

Get ready for another hot summer of sensational TV. We want crazy thrillers. We want exaggerated plot lines. But don’t count out prestigious and gut-wrenching dramas. The summer TV season begins earlier each year. We’re only halfway thro...
Published: 05/17/18
Today’s sports on TV/radio

Today’s sports on TV/radio

TODAYBaseballCardinals at Twins1 p.m.MLBRays at Royals2 p.m.Fox Sun; 620-AMBrewers at Diamondbacks (in progress)4 p.m.MLBDodgers at Marlins7 p.m.FSFYankees at Nationals7 p.m.ESPNAstros at Angels (in progress)10 p.m.MLBCyclingTour of California, Stage...
Published: 05/15/18
Pauley Perrette claims she endured ‘multiple physical attacks’ on ‘NCIS’: ‘Nothing is worth your safety’

Pauley Perrette claims she endured ‘multiple physical attacks’ on ‘NCIS’: ‘Nothing is worth your safety’

Pauley Perrette left the long-running CBS forensic show NCIS after 15 seasons last week under what was originally presented as a professional decision. On Twitter, however, she told a different story."I refused to go low, that’s why I’ve never told p...
Published: 05/15/18
14 classic movies to see at Tampa Theatre this summer

14 classic movies to see at Tampa Theatre this summer

Tampa Theatre revealed today the lineup of movies for this year’s Summer Classics series. Among the more notable screenings are 2009’s The Blind Side, featuring a question and answer session with actor Quinton “Big Mike” Aaro...
Published: 05/14/18
Updated: 05/15/18
8 TV shows to watch with your mom for Mother’s Day

8 TV shows to watch with your mom for Mother’s Day

Mom should spend Mother's Day however she wants. And if she doesn't want to go anywhere, suggest a heartwarming TV show to binge together. My mother and I have always shared a love for television, and I remember proudly declaring to my fifth-grade cl...
Published: 05/10/18