It’s probably safe to call it a pop-culture phenomenon by now, right? “Making a Murderer” is EVERYWHERE. In case you somehow haven’t heard of it, “Making a Murderer” is a 10-part docu-series on Netflix which profiles the unique legal troubles of Steven Avery, a Wisconsin native who was wrongly accused (and exonerated) of a sexual assault in 1985 and then convicted of murder in 2007 (putting up a defense of police framing). It’s a sobering, infuriating, and tragic tale – that is also undeniably compelling and binge-worthy. And, it calls into question the US legal system, false confessions, police corruption, judicial ethics, and more. Makes for good TV.
While “Making a Murderer” may be the latest high-profile story about a true-crime head scratcher, it wasn’t the first and certainly won’t be the last. Alongside such notable pop-culture hits as “Serial” and HBO’s “The Jinx,” PBS has also been producing high-quality true-crime documentaries for years. We’ve highlighted some of the best below — to help with your “Making a Murderer “withdrawals.
This compelling doc comes from the king of documentary filmmaking himself, Ken Burns. Burns (along with his daughter, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon) takes on the case of five black and Latino teenagers from Harlem who were wrongly convicted of raping a white woman in New York City’s Central Park in 1989.
This Frontline documentary sets up a very intriguing story about false confessions. Eight men charged. Five confessions. But only one DNA match. Why would four innocent men confess to a brutal crime they didn’t commit? Also, The Confessions confronts issues of poverty and learning/developmental disabilities that are explored in “Making a Murderer.”
If you’re into docu-series rather than documentaries, this one’s for you. Also from Frontline, this 3-part series follows filmmaker Ken Dornstein as he seeks to piece together more information surrounding the Pan Am Flight 103 crash that killed his brother. Similar to “The Jinx,” “Serial,” and possibly “Making a Murderer,” My Brother’s Bomber is one of a few recent documentaries that have had real-life implications for the ongoing investigation of the original crime(s).
The ante is pretty much as high as it gets in this one as the man at the center of the controversy has already been executed. But, was he innocent? The case became a point of national debate a few years ago. Frontline expertly investigates the entire story.
From PBS’s award-winning documentary series, POV, this case mirrors the “Making a Murderer” case eerily – but in Mexico rather than Wisconsin. A man is convicted of murder on dubious grounds and two defense attorneys struggle to uncover the truth.
Also from POV, 15 to Life takes on the juvenile justice system (which also rears its ugly head in “Making a Murderer”). Does sentencing a teenager to life without parole serve our society well? Find out through the story of 15-year-old Kenneth Young.
From PBS’s other award-winning documentary outfit, Independent Lens, comes Little Hope Was Arson. In 2010, a rash of church burnings in East Texas puts an entire community on edge, pitted against itself. The case became the largest criminal investigation in East Texas history.
We hope these films pose questions and pique your curiosity; urging you to keep knowing and learning more, the way all good documentaries should.