Since unleashing House Of Cards back in 2013, Netflix have been finetuning their bingeing formula. Some shows have arrived with more of a fizzle (Marco Polo) than a bang (Orange Is The New Black), whilst others have become firm fan favourites (BoJack Horseman). Making A Murderer is the first of the platform's programming that truly begs to be watched in one sitting, landing with next-to-no fanfare before erupting into a cultural phenomenon that has resulted in petitions considered by Barack Obama, confused water cooler chat, and a strong temptation to throw your television out the window.
The first of [Netflix's] programming that truly begs to be watched in one sitting.
Those that dive headfirst into the documentary series knowing the story's minutiae will have a completely different experience to those in the dark. But this isn't to say that anyone aware of the outcome won't still be moved. Filmed over ten years and subsequently split into ten episodes, the filmmakers couldn't possibly know what route their documentary would take (see also: Alex Gibney's The Armstrong Lie, Errol Morris' The Thin Blue Line). The ten-episode arc answers less questions than it raises, though to delve too far would be to remove the emotional impact - this is a show unafraid to leave questions unanswered.
Making A Murderer follows the plight of Winconsin salvage yard-worker Steven Avery. Having served 18 of his 32-year sentence for the sexual assault and attempted murder of Penny Beerntsen, new DNA evidence finds him - a man who continually pleaded his innocence - acquitted. But the welcome home banners don’t last far beyond the first episode. Just two years after his release, the then 43 year-old Avery is arrested on suspicion of murdering Teresa Halbach - an Auto Trader photographer he'd commissioned to help sell vehicles on numerous occasions.
Portrayed as pariahs of the Manitowoc County's close knit society from the outset, the Averys' 'keep-themselves-to-themselves' attitude doesn’t grant any favours in a town that operates within a rigid community mould. So, when theories of a police witchhunt rear their head, they're not hard to believe. Can one man really be wrongfully imprisoned for two separate crimes? The county's apparent want to get rid of the Averys gathers steam as a combination of events (including tampered evidence, baffling courtroom inconsistencies, and the coercion of Steven's mentally-challenged teenage nephew) fuse into what quickly appears to be a very dogged pursuit.
But - to paraphrase Rudyard Kipling - you have to keep your head when all about you are losing theirs. It's incredibly difficult to stay impartial throughout the ten episodes when the evidence seems to fall so heavily in Avery's favour. The filmmakers often start leading you down a rabbit hole before abandoning the thread entirely, never making it clear whether their motive was to keep you guessing or whether they lacked the evidence to follow their hunches through. They are essentially doing the detective work before your eyes, and often - and very frustratingly - leads go cold.
Question marks appear over the involvement of those close to Teresa (a phone hacking incident speaks volumes), but the series (and Manitowoc police force) decides it's not worth honing in on - even if there's a palpable sense of doubt whenever we encounter ex-boyfriends, roommates and, to an extent, her brother, Mike.
A lot of things are left unclear in this harrowing and extremely frustrating crime saga.
Making A Murderer employs an abundance of footage and talking heads, but nearly all of the featured girlfriends, officials and family are pro-Avery. The trial jury have the potential to be swayed by incessant media coverage of the Avery/Halbach case, but it's Steven's charismatic and impossibly hopeful defence double-act (and newly-crowned internet meme sensations) Dean Strang and Jerry Buting who ensure the viewer remain, even at the show's darkest points, Team Avery. (Conversely, expect District Attorney Ken Kratz to be 2016's Halloween costume of choice.)
Making A Murderer is undoubtedly the current jewel in Netflix's crown and isn’t something to visit in weekly instalments - to do so would undermine the near-flawless cliffhanger mould. The lack of a neat finale is exasperating, but this ultimately lies outside the filmmakers' control. A lot of things are left unclear in this harrowing and extremely frustrating crime saga, but the main takeaway is that it is possible to create event television without making a show's launch an event in itself.