True Crime Documentaries Have Become Formulaic And Boring
Humans have a mind-numbing amount of television programming to choose from at their fingertips. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, HBO Go - the list goes on and on. Massive corporations like Disney Channel are even getting into the game. ESPN has a streaming app that is trying to get more viewers by airing 30 for 30 documentaries exclusively on the platform.
In short - we’re spoiled. Do Netflix and Hulu Originals often lack substance? Oh yeah. A lot of those shows are fucking terrible. But on occasion these streaming platforms will strike gold, and nothing gets people on social media and bar rooms talking like a true crime documentary.
We have to go all the way back to a documentary that originally aired in 2004 called “The Staircase” to understand the trend. Of course Americans have been obsessed with true crime since Capote’s novel “In Cold Blood”, but since the advent of cable news and the OJ Simpson trial, there seems to be a neverending interest in murder and other horrifying true stories.
I first saw “The Staircase” in 2012 and obviously was enthralled. I moved on to “The Jinx” on HBO and watched hours on end of Investigation Discovery whenever I could. “Making A Murderer” was one of the shows that established Netflix as a true crime player and ever since they’ve been pumping out similar documentaries at an alarming clip. I’ll be the first to tell you that I love these kind of shows.
But sometime around last fall when Netlix released a sequel to Making A Murderer I started zoning out. It’s become routine to turn Netflix, Hulu, HBO, or your streaming platform of choice and turn on a doc with dramatic drone footage and people involved in the story walking into view of a camera and sitting down in a directors chair to tell their side of things.
Nothing shocks me anymore. They all follow the same plot - backstory on who committed the murder. Backstory on victim. Three or four episodes in we learn about when the crime happened and see some gory crime scene photos. Then we prepare for trial and talk to the lawyers in the case. Then we learn the verdict and then there’s probably some interviews with the perp in prison. That’s every true crime documentary summed up in a paragraph for you.
“Abducted In Plain Sight” took Twitter by storm a few weeks back and I got through about 20 minutes of it before I turned it off out of boredom. The story is captivating, yes. But I’ve watched so many true crime documentaries at this point that I’m numb to it. I’m like a porn addicted teenager that isn’t even interested in the real thing anymore. That’s not to say that I want to murder someone, but these stories aren’t moving the needle in the same way that they sued. All of these streaming platforms are feeling pressure to produce more and more of them to feed a bloodthirsty public even if the content is total garbage. It doesn’t matter anymore because they know they can get it trending on Twitter and have people talk about it.
HBO just came out with a multi-episode documentary about Adnan Syed of “Serial” fame. But we already know this story. It’s not new. We know how it ends and Sarah Koenig already did it better in audio format. HBO is making “Serial” with visuals and no one is saying a thing about it because we need true crime in our lives. It’s a total money grab and guess what? I’m probably going to watch it even though I think Adnan is guilty as all hell and I know how the story ends.
I’m so tired. I need a break from true crime documentaries because nothing does it for me anymore. The market is so saturated and none of these platforms are even trying anymore. I need to go back and rewatch “The Sopranos” or something.