Tag Archives: Making a Murderer

Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 2015 Edition: 22-19

19 May

All hour longs, three with their first seasons, and the fourth one of the most successful cable shows on television. Here we go.

Intro here and 58-55 here and 54-51 here and 50-47 here and 46-43 here and 42-39 here and 38-35 here and 34-31 here and 30-27 here and 26-23 here.

22. Wolf Hall – 2014: Not Eligible

Wolf Hall

Based on a couple of popular and excellent books by Hilary Mantel about Thomas Cromwell, Wolf Hall is the most British miniseries imaginable, a period piece following Cromwell up through his his rise to become the chief adviser to the tempestuous and mercurial Henry VIII. The series is like Game of Thrones shorn of the spectacle and composed of the scenes with people talking to one another. It’s filled with complicated conversations about weighty issues and convoluted royal law composed of witty rapport and deals with many of the same questions about power and class. Mark Rylance is absolutely brilliant as Cromwell and grounds the story in a stark humanity.

21. Making a Murderer – 2014: Not Eligible

Making a Murderer

The most harrowing and depressing show on television last year, it outstrips Game of Thrones and the many other serious and depressing shows currently on TV because everything on it is entirely real. I shouted at the screen early and often at the travesties of justice being committed left and right, and no show so brilliantly lays out the myriad problems with the American justice system in just a few hours. Through one incredible case rife with twists and turns, captured every step along the way by the documentarians, everything you didn’t realize about how the American police, lawyers, and judges work together to put someone in jail, rather than necessarily put the right person in jail is on display, and it’s eye opening. In some ways, the structure and limitations of what can be captured on a documentary can make a series like this hard to move up to the top of this list, but alternately, that makes this potentially the most must-watch show on here.

20. Jessica Jones – 2014: Not Eligible

Jessica Jones

Daredevil’s a pretty good show, but it only set the table for the superior Jessica Jones. Jones has superpowers, but her show is more a detective noir than a typical superhero show, even a street level superhero show like Daredevil. Although a foul-mouthed, hard-drinking, self-hating private eye may sound routine for the genre, Krysten Ritter’s Jones is much more than a trope; she’s an emotionally damaged fully-fledged morally divided hero crippled by her nemesis who controlled her for several months, traumatizing her, and  who looms over the entire season. David Tenant, as the absolutely terrifying Kilgrave, delivers one of the scariest antagonist performances in years. Jones must work with her best friend Trish to vanquish him, and their relationship is another high point of the show. Carrie-Anne Moss as power attorney Jeri Hogarth is a strong character as well until it feels like three quarters of the way through the show, everything that happens to her was happened solely to make a particularly plot contrivance believable, and a couple of the male characters aren’t quite so great (I’m looking at you, neighbor Malcolm (edit: friend reminded me to add the horrible Robyn). Still, Jessica Jones is the rare comic book show that everyone, comic media fan or not, should enjoy.

23. Game of Thrones – 2014: 6

Game of Thrones

As I said earlier this entry, the number of great TV shows that aired in 2015 is higher than ever before, particularly the number of excellent half hours which is forcing consistently excellent hour long shows to drop down the rankings unfairly, and has caused shows which have slipped just an inch to fall a foot. Game of Thrones is one of these shows. Long one of mine and many others’ favorite shows on TV, and one of the few event shows left that you feel like you can’t miss on Sunday lest it be ruined by Monday morning, Game of Thrones continues to be great. But last season felt more unfocused than any before, and particularly, had the Dorne plot, a major new location which contained a few new characters. This part deviated from the book for space reasons and never quite worked, trying to fix each mistake with a worse one. I try not to compare the books to the show, in terms of quality, as much as possible, because it’s a rigged game in terms of 10 hours a season vs. hundreds of pages, but it’s impossible not to. Last season had me firmly on the side of preferring the book, which is honestly much more of a compliment to the wonderful books than an insult to the wonderful show. It’s simply a can’t win. It’s a very good show that we have here with a huge budget and we shouldn’t lose site of being grateful to have it.

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End of Season Report: Making a Murderer, Season 1

25 Jan

Making a Murderer

Making a Murderer is probably the most frustrating and depressing program you’ll watch this (or late last) year, primarily because while, at the end of the day, whatever happens on most shows happens to fictional characters, fictional characters you’re deeply invested in, but fictional characters none the less, Making a Murderer leaves two possibly innocent people who were at the least surely not given a fair shake at justice in prison.

And while of course I want to talk about the quality of the show and not get up on my soapbox, it’s just about impossible to do one without the other, and that’s kind of the point. In a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction series of events, two people are sent to prison for decades for committing a gruesome murder, and the documentarians catch nearly every flaw in our American adversarial criminal justice system along the way: overzealous cops and prosecutors more motivated to get a conviction than get the truth, a law & order jury cowed and skewed in favor of conviction, regardless of the actual evidence, local elected judges willing to generally defer to prosecutors, incompetent defense counselors who don’t have their clients’ interests at heart, and a prioritization of incredibly unreliable witness statements and confessions over scientific evidence.

Oof, that’s a laundry list, and even for a cynic like me, Making a Murderer was able to generate, episode-by-episode a renewed lack-of-faith in the system. On top of everything mentioned above, the series also shines a light on our utter and unflinching trust of police and prosecutors and how “innocent until proven guilty” is basically thrown out the window when defendants are convicted in the court of public opinion by savage media reports that build off of speculation rather than facts. Confirmation bias leads well-meaning cops and lawyers to commit themselves so deeply to the fact that Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey are guilty that they can’t see the obvious problems with the cases that the audience can.

And of all the utter mockeries of justice shown over 10 or so hours, the most tragic and troubling is the story of Brendan Dassey. Stephen Avery’s case is problematic on many levels, but Dassey’s is a complete joke. The only, and I repeat only, evidence the state has on Dassey is a confession, given to two cops when he had no lawyer, where he obviously was cowed into saying things he didn’t believe, very clearly making up fanciful stories to desperately please the investigators. There can be no doubt about this. It’s appallingly obvious to anyone who watches the confession on tape. Forget the blatant malpractice of Dassey’s first lawyer. The mere fact that police officers, prosecutors, judges, and 12 members of what had to be a unanimous jury could watch the tape of his interview and believe he did what he said he did is mind bogglingly troublesome.

So yeah, to sum up, I liked the show. If there’s such a thing as an “important show” without being intolerably pretentious, this might be one. It’s very difficult to sit through at times,and I yelled at my screen like a mad person, but it really provides a no-holds-barred reality based look at our criminal justice system, so when you hear and see claims about how every man and woman is treated equally under the law, and the truth will win out in the end, and the adversarial system serves justice better than the alternative, well, it’s good to be reminded sometimes that that’s just a load of bullshit. And while that’s depressing, it’s better to know than live under an illusion.