The episode titled Big Dan’s is the event that inspired The Accused, a film about the gangrape of a woman in a bar that won Jodie Foster her first Oscar. There had never been a nationally televised rape trial in America before the case at Big Dan’s. Another of the documentary’s cases deals with the death of Amadou Diallo, an immigrant from Guinea who was shot 41 times by four white police officers while he stood unarmed at his own doorstep. There’s also the documentation of the corruption trial of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, a man who appeared in American president Donald Trump’s show, The Celebrity Apprentice. Blagojevich got out of jail earlier this year after Trump commuted his sentence.
Produced by actor George Clooney, lawyer and author Jeffrey Toobin (he wrote an account of the O J Simpson murder case, one of the best examples of trial by media), and others, this documentary highlights how in some cases gavel-to-gavel coverage wasn’t just a throwaway term. Every piece of evidence and argument was recorded for the collective consumption of a nation. But barring a few instances, there’s no inference to be drawn from these scenes.
The docuseries might have been more effective if it had just told it as it happened — important cases with remarkable drama in and outside the courtroom. But unfortunately for a series that aims to turn the lens on lensmen, it seems to forget its mandate mid-way. Instances of how the media could manipulate a fickle narrative are few and far between. Instead, the series’ makers seem to simply want to flex how much archival footage they managed to get.
Fiction has to be compelling. It needs you to believe in the twists and turns, expected and otherwise. There are no such demands from the rapes, murders, frauds and scams that take place in real life, and that is one of the few reasons to watch this series. The only other reason would be to better understand the workings of the American justice system.