Following the runaway success of recent Netflix documentary Making a Murderer, Discovery Channel's new true-crime docuseries, Killing Fields, uses a similar gimmick to draw viewers in. Premiering this Thursday at 11pm with A Body in the Bayou (above), the show's format revolves around an ongoing police investigation into the murder of a real person, who died in real time, in the real world.
Before the titles even roll we are reminded that "All individuals are innocent until proven guilty" (well, this does come from America, where there's a xenophobic misogynist running for the presidency, so you can't take anything for granted) and as the reopened cold case begins to unfold, we are given no clues as to whether there will be a happy or satisfactory conclusion. Although, as well-trained voyeurs of the macabre (I've seen enough episodes of CSI and Criminal Minds to murder an entire village with a selection of breakfast muffins and get off scot-free), we will have probably decided who the killer is within the first five minutes and be rooting for our chosen suspect as if this were some sick reality game show. And although this is the real deal, the six-part Killing Fields, directed by Oscar-winning Barry Levinson, couldn't be a more clichéd buddy cop drama if a bloodied Bruce Willis turned up in a grimy white vest yelling, "Yippee-ki-yay!"
Rodie Sanchez is a retired, rather grizzled homicide detective (he's on his sixth wife because, of course, he's always been married to the job) who craves one last shot at cracking the case of Eugenie Boisfontaine, whose murder took place in the spooky swamplands of Louisiana and has haunted him for nigh on two decades. Looking to give her family closure (he promised her mother that he would catch the "son of a bitch" who killed and mutilated her daughter), Sanchez teams up with a young hotshot whose new crime-solving techniques are sure to rub up the gruff old-school detective the wrong way.
Sanchez is certainly a charismatic character but, without a narrator to guide us through its heavily blurred world of fact and fiction, the premiere struggles with discordant pacing. Real-life detective work, it seems, is a rather slow and laborious process, so with overly forced dramatic scenes shoved in to fill the gaps, Killing Fields often feels more like a True Detective cast-off than a true-crime investigation.
Continuing in jovial vein, Life and Death Row is a three-part documentary examining the lives of young offenders whose existence has been shaped by capital punishment. This week's premiere, Execution (Fox Crime, Friday at 10pm), takes an unflinching look at two of the youngest men to have languished on death row.
Richard Cobb, who was 18 at the time of his crime, in 2002, was found guilty of rape and murder while Anthony Haynes was sentenced to death in 1999, aged 20, for fatally shooting an off-duty policeman. They talk openly to camera about their crimes and impending punishment. Cut with news footage and interviews with the families of both victims and perpetrators, it's hard-hitting stuff and makes for uncomfortable viewing at times. The footage with Nikki Daniels, a young woman who survived being raped and shot by Cobb, is especially powerful, as she struggles to gain closure following her attacker's execution.
Whether you believe that an eye for an eye is justice or you're vehemently opposed to capital punishment, Life and Death Row is compelling viewing, a remarkably well-balanced and unbiased documentary produced with such expertise that no matter which side of the argument you are on, you'll be reminded that there's nothing as precious as life itself.