From the twang of the theme song, the images of rural Wisconsin landscapes, and the accents that seemed straight from the set of Fargo, Netflix’s documentary series “Making a Murderer” seemed all too familiar. I’ve been living, reading, and writing in the Midwest since birth. “Making a Murderer” tapped into my deeply felt Midwestern sense of place.
The series follows the trials and convictions of Steven Avery – first, for the sexual assault of Penny Beerntsen in 1985, a crime for which he served 18 years in prison only to be exonerated by DNA evidence and the legal efforts of the Wisconsin Innocence Project. Then, for the murder of Teresa Halbach a mere two years after his release and amid a lawsuit against the Manitowoc County Police who had originally put him behind bars.
Like This American Life’s spinoff podcast, “Serial” and HBO’s documentary series, “The Jinx,” “Making a Murderer” repackages deeply compelling violent crimes as deeply compelling narrative. Where “Making a Murderer” departs from its flashier counterparts is its deep entrenchment in place.
The absence of mediating narrator – both Sarah Koenig (“Serial”) and Andrew Jarecki (“The Jinx”) play central roles in their narrative investigations – as well as the reliance on amateur footage, courtroom tape, and aerial shots of the Averys’ property functions much more mimetically than the medium of other true crime narratives. In its rootedness in the particulars of Manitowoc, Wisconsin, “Making a Murderer”‘ s sense of place invokes a much older genre: American literary regionalism.
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