Netflix Series Review: Making a Murderer

So this series has been extremely popular, and I’d wager everyone and their dog that has an opinion has expressed it.

Here’s mine:

Don’t watch it.

It will just make you angry. If you like being angry, then sure, but if you like being angry, I have other concerns about you. And if it doesn’t make you angry, I have a lot of other concerns about you.

Making a Murderer is a documentary about the state of the justice system in Wisconsin. The creators managed to cut down 700 hours of footage into a ten-hour mini-series.

I can’t remember where I read (if required, I’ll track it down later), but someone said if you manage to distill 700 hours into 10, you’ve got to end up with a good story. That’s the power of editing. I believed that statement before I actually watched the story.

I think those ten hours could have been two, honestly. I think my soul would hurt less if it had only been two. Then again, I think the people who made this wanted my soul to hurt. They couldn’t have had the same impact with only two hours.

I was also viewing this story from a background of series like The First 48 and Forensic Files. This felt like stretching and extending one of those episodes over ten hours, which made it feel long, grindy, and soul-hurting.

In the end, I’m not sure if protagonist Steve Avery is guilty. The series is heavily weighted to the side of his innocence, which the cynic in me cringes from. I did do a little bit of digging into the things that didn’t make it into the show, and what got left out definitely throws more questions into the ludicrously massive question pile.

What I do know is based on what was presented in the series, there is absolutely no way in hell he should be in jail. Whether he committed the crime or not, reasonable doubt was all over the place. It was everywhere. If you can put people in jail when reasonable doubt is all over the place, the system has collapsed.

I hope he does find his evidence and exhonerate himself again (yes, again), because there is no way he should be in prison. The county this all started in made such a bloody mess (I’m so witty) of the whole thing. If Avery had committed this horrible crime, and they had done the logical thing (i.e. stay the hell out of anything having anything to do with him) he could have been caught on real evidence, instead of bullpoopy.

He’s not some sort of hyper-intelligent serial killer. He would have left evidence behind, real evidence, thoroughly untainted real evidence. But nope. People who should have been nowhere near anything to do with this were all over it all the time, and being shady about it constantly.

What a mess. The show isn’t a mess. It’s a very effective show. But what this show is showing is such a huge mess that it makes my heart hurt. Maybe it was needed, especially in the county in question, so that maybe the people with good hearts out there (there must be some) would stand up and realize that the system in place is rotten garbage.

But even if this show is needed, because corruption like this needs as many flashlights as possible all honed in on it, I wish I hadn’t watched it. I watched it like that cliché trainwreck, night after night. I’d finish an episode, say I wasn’t going to watch anymore, then twenty-four hours later, I’d find myself watching the next episode.

Do yourself a favor. Unless you want this to be your fight, and maybe you do, but I’m betting you don’t, unless you want to be waist deep in the crap pile that is justice for poor people in America, you should instead turn up the music that makes you happy, rather than turning to see where the crashing sounds are coming from.

Netflix Series Review: Death in Paradise

I really enjoyed this little series. Death in Paradise is not made by Netflix, but is instead by BBC One. It is upbeat and quirky for stories that revolve around death, not unlike Father Brown.

However, unlike Father Brown, something about Death in Paradise’s heavy colonial overtones gave me the heebiejeebies, tainting an otherwise delightful experience.

Yes, I understand that the whole point of the show, other than the crime stories, is to contrast an inept, very British detective with a beautiful, chaotic, and warm Caribbean surrounding. That’s done quite well to wonderfully humorous effect.

But something about the reason why said British detective is there just rubs me the wrong way.

It’s not that the native people are made to look stupid or inept. Quite the contrary, they often come across quite adept at their jobs. And the junior officers are shown learning and growing in their careers, making the particular strengths they bring to their positions evident. The senior officer, who is also the female lead, is often put forward as intelligent and well-trained. But that very competence of the people who actually live on the island makes me as a viewer wonder why said British detective is even there.

He’s there to help them solve crimes, yes, but do they really need his help? He is really good at it, yes, but is he so good at it that they couldn’t do it without him? I’m not sure he is. I get the feeling they could do it without him. It just wouldn’t be as entertaining a story. And that’s what bothers me.

It’s the conundrum of stories with colonial backgrounds. If the people natively from the colony are too stupid to do the job on their own and need colonists to help, that’s a problem. But if the people natively from the colony are perfectly competent, they they don’t need any colonists to help.

I just don’t think there’s any way a colonial story can sit well with the modern concept that all races and cultures being perfectly competent and rational human beings.

In Death in Paradise, these bad colonial vibes are particularly clear where the female lead is concerned. She’s highly intelligent, trained well overseas, socially aware, works well with others, understands the community where they all live and work. And yet, she always plays second fiddle and assumed love interest to the stodgy British man who has taken over her office, and that just rings false to me.

I could see why an outsider would take a shine to her. I probably would in their shoes. But to me, that interest of the male other diminishes her character, weakens her. Where it seems like she would be able to solve all these cases if there weren’t an outsider always stepping in, given all the qualities that have been ascribed to her, she never has the opportunity within the context of the show.

Even with the cast change of said stodgy British male lead for the third season, even with the new British detective’s different way of being the oddball (clumsy and disorganized, rather than nitpicky and homesick) and his greater acceptance of the local culture, all those niggling colonial and gender problems continued, and if anything were amplified by the end of the most recent season.

All that being said, and all the things that made me uneasy about the show, I still enjoyed it and will watch more if more becomes available. I like the fact that it makes me feel uneasy. It helps me define the way I think and feel about the world, and gives me something to stand in opposition to. I wouldn’t advocate it as representative of, well, anything, but I definitely uphold it as something to enjoy both for pure entertainment’s sake and as an exercise in analytical criticism.

As for recommending, I’d say only if the genre piques your interest. It’s pretty formulaic if charming. If you’re already interested in the concept, you’ll enjoy it. Overall, it’s fare too standard and old-fashioned for most.

Another Review: Neverwhere (BBC Radio 4)

Not a TV series, not a book, not a video game, not even a movie — where to put this?

I’ll start out by saying I am not the biggest Neil Gaiman fan in the world. I love him and respect him very highly as an artist and an author. I am a fan of Sandman, which to me is the apex of what comic books are capable of. Sandman is what happens when a true master of story is given full control of Oneiros and uses the God of Dreams to create timeless magic. And I think Gaiman and Pratchett complement each other to perfection in Good Omens.

However, of Gaiman’s other endeavors that I’ve experienced — the movie adaptations of Stardust and Coraline, and the novels Neverwhere and American Gods — while they were compelling and beautiful stories in their own rights, they just weren’t mine, you know? They didn’t speak to me on a personal level. The narrative voices just didn’t resonate with me as audience, just didn’t match up with things I sincerely enjoy. And that’s fine. I’m perfectly happy to live in a world where some stories are meant for me and some stories are meant for others.

With that caveat out of the way, the voice cast in BBC Radio 4’s recent audio adaptation is pure delight. James McAvoy does something playful with the lead role that made me actually understand and relate to the curious blank slate reactive protagonist of Gaiman’s that I’ve never really liked. Benedict Cumberbatch brings his Midas touch to the story, making it glitter in ways that just reading it never did. The Marquis de Carabas, Hunter, the Black Friars, they all popped to life as they never had before.

I’m not sure how much credit for the magic of this version goes to Dirk Maggs’ script adaptation rather than the voice cast. Some, definitely. Serious editing skill was deftly applied here to lift a picture from page to sound, a picture that I enjoyed more in audio than in text, which is a rare thing indeed.

Natalie Dormer as Door is probably the least magical part of this audio story for me, but I’d say that’s a quality of the character, rather than the acting. She’s too much of a plot device and not enough of a person for my tastes. That being said, this version of Door actually piqued my interest in Portico’s family for the first time. The idea of a family of openers slipped beneath my notice when I read Neverwhere years ago. Suddenly, now it’s something I muse on with no small amount of glee. Thank you, BBC.

If you’ve got a patch of time coming up where listening to an audio play will brighten the hours (e.g. a long drive or walk, some mindless yet necessary physical chores, a lot of boring dailies to do in an MMO), Radio 4’s Neverwhere is a serious hard recommend from me. The story is very much Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, still not my perfect story cup of tea, but the concoction that is this cast and this version is just too good to ever willfully miss.

((It came to my attention after writing this that Neverwhere was actually originally a TV series, and that the novel I read was the novelization of said series. That explains part of why it transferred so well to audio, but I still think the cast made it amazing.))

Small update

Since that last post, my judgmental attitudes and self-hatred (i.e. my angry dogs) went into overdrive. I haven’t been able to write a single word, not even about the Netflix series I have, yes, continued to watch. I’ve spent the last two weeks in distraction and shut down mode.

I’m not sure why this happened. I’m not sure there even is a why. I think I was afraid. I got too close to something that scares me, and walking further into it was just not plausible. I had to run.

Even that result explains something about why and how the last ten years have gone the way they have.

But after today’s round of therapy, I do feel better. Nothing was really resolved, per se, but continuing the metaphor, the dog cage is at a more comfortable distance, and maybe I can find a keyboard voice again. I do have a lot of thoughts in my head that could use a little exercise.