Watching this gripping, gruelling addition to the ‘Crime Machine’ genre is like entering an American nightmare where the police have absolute power to pick on a specific target and turn him over in the most unashamed, dramatic way possible.
Steven Avery is that man, a lowly scrapyard worker who, when the 10-part documentary begins, is released from jail after serving 18 years for a crime he didn’t commit.
Admittedly, he’s a bit annoyed so he begins a lawsuit against the police and it’s, from there, things get messy as he’s charged with another gruesome murder (along with his newphew Brendan Massey) on his patch, which naturally he denies.
But it’s Dassey, a teenager at the time, who becomes the prosecution’s main witness, and it looks as if it’s going to be curtains for Avery again, and he’ll be banged up for a second time.
The reason why this documentary works is because it peeps into the American criminal justice system and finds something rotten underneath, an inhumane streak that police find irrestible when the going gets tough and culprit’s fingerprints might not be on the weapon.
But it is also valuable because it’s probably a seminal example of the ‘Crime Machine’ genre, that is a real-life documentary that explores a huge period of time, perhaps decades, but stretches, shrinks it and chops it into small chunks so we can piece together the present, hour by hour, day by day, month by month. Some other recent examples of this genre would include ITV’s The Investigator: A British Crime Story and Channel Four’s excellent Interview with a Murderer which covered the notorious Carl Bridgewater case.
The main difference between these documentaries, of course, is that cameras are allowed in the courtroom for Making a Murderer and this ensures a compelling, if terrifying, edge to proceedings as the main players begin to resemble puppets in a higher drama.
The only downside would be that some episodes in the middle sag a little when we have too many lawyers talking and too much exposition.
But apart from that, Making a Murderer is eye-poppingly authentic.
At the time of writing, Brendan Dassey could be released soon – but Steven Avery? Unlikely.
Maybe a second series, which has been mooted, could tell us more.