It has come to my attention that some people still have not set aside ten hours of their lives to finish watching Making a Murderer. Goddamn it.
In all seriousness, I didn't expect anyone who just started yesterday to be all the way through with it by now, although I wouldn't be surprised. If you started watching it yesterday and are still in front of the TV in a puddle of your own drool, uninterested in the outside world and unable to move, a la Infinite Jest, I would understand completely. David Foster Wallace worried about what entertainment was doing to us, and it is impossible not to wonder what he would have made of Making a Murderer had he lived long enough to see this nonfiction art form come into its own: It isn't entertainment, it isn't "entertaining," although it isn't not entertainment, either. It certainly makes you want to keep watching, and it makes you feel more alive to the world, and it even makes some people want to write blog posts badgering other people they don't even know into watching it already. You know what is entertaining? Watching Making a Murderer criticize and outdo big-budget true-crime network trash like Dateline directly, using a Dateline producer's own words. That is incredibly satisfying.
I'm thinking of that Dateline producer who explains, while smiling, several episodes into Making a Murderer, that "Right now, murder is hot, that's what everyone wants." It's a damning little moment tucked into one of the episodes, but for all we know it could be the death-knell of Dateline and its whole ghoulish, horrible, sensationalistic approach.
Making a Murderer reminds you just how bad Dateline and shows like it are. For one, Dateline repeats the same few images over and over and over (usually still photos the camera is either zooming into or out of), images it has to repeat because it's constantly either about to break for a commercial or reminding you of what you just watched before the commercial break. Obviously, commercials are not a problem on Netflix. Also, Dateline always has that smug and creepy narrator's voice telling you what to think or what the neighbors thought or how you won't believe how on so-and-so's special night she was about to be in the middle of a nightmare she could never have imagined, or whatever. On Making a Murderer, there's none of that crap. It's told entirely without narration: It's just primary sources speaking into the camera, and courtroom footage, and low-budget handheld establishing shots of Avery's auto yard, and maps, and recorded phone calls from prison. And that's it! It's amazing that it works—amazing such a complicated story can be told this way, amazing how much more compelling the narrative is if the viewer gets to do the work that that smug and creepy voiceover in Dateline usually does for you, providing the emotional context for each scene, each piece of evidence, each revelation.
As for the substance of Making a Murderer... I'm having a hard time even figuring out what more to type at this moment, or how we should talk about this, because it is so dense with detail one hardly knows where to start, and because Rich Smith is still only into episode one and I know he's going to read this blog post even if I tell him not to, and anyway the only really satisfying way to talk about it would be to invite you, whoever's reading this—yes, you (hi!)—to The Stranger's offices right now so we could all sit down and talk about it together, and I could say things like "How about that Kratz?" or "Remember 'inconsistent'?" or "It does seem fucked, yes, but what about the thing with Steven Avery's cat? Why would someone do that?" But The Stranger's offices are closed for the holiday week, so that's not going to work.
And that's not even addressing... um... the thing they find at the end of episode four. You know... In the styrofoam thingy? With the hole in it? Yeah.
See? We can't even discuss this further until more people are caught up.
So, we'll talk about this again tomorrow—you have an extra day to catch up, slackers! We will talk about Kratz and the cat and the word "inconsistent" and that one press conference and Wrestlemania and Auto Trader and the Rav4 and the key and the fire and the thing with the hole in it... tomorrow. And whatever else you want to talk about. Tell me in the comments what you want to talk about, or how we should do this, because I'm at a loss here. How do you talk about a TV show that could change, that could be revised again at some point, that isn't fixed? I feel like I'm already giving too much away. I'll shut up.
Meanwhile, to deal with my bafflement and awe, I've been reading up on how this show was created. The two directors, Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi, were "graduate film students at Columbia University who had been dating for two years" when they read this story in the New York Times about someone who'd been imprisoned for 18 years for a crime he didn't commit. His name was Steven Avery. They went out to visit him, to get some footage, thinking he might make for an interesting documentary project. They had no idea just how interesting the story was about to get.