Upcoming Netflix series Trial by Media taps into our fascination with true crime, and adds a layer of social commentary, profiling six criminal trials, and how the media played a starring role in their outcomes.
With George Clooney as executive producer, each 60-minute episode provides a concise overview of a particular court case with media footage and post-verdict reflections from eyewitnesses, family members and defence lawyers.
It opens with the shooting of Scott Amedure in 1995 by his friend Jonathan Schmitz following their appearance on a popular talk show, The Jenny Jones Show.
Amedure had revealed having a crush on Schmitz during a recording of the show and, seemingly spurred by homophobic rage, Schmitz later shot dead Amedure.
Another case involves four police officers who fired 41 shots into an unarmed 23-year-old immigrant from Guinea called Amidou Diallo in New York, on February 4, 1999.
It explores not only the murder trial but also the resulting protests by the Bronx community who pushed for immediate reform within the police department.
Many episodes explore the way in which narratives of reformation play out in high-profile court cases in the media.
This is particularly apparent in the case of businessman Richard Scrushy who is accused of conspiracy, money laundering, securities fraud and mail fraud but rebrands himself as a tele-preacher on a Christian TV show.
Or disgraced former governor Rod Blagojevich, who tries to sway public opinion in his favour by appearing in the Donald Trump-helmed reality series, Celebrity Apprentice.
While there are moments of lightness, Trial By Media makes for sombre, often very upsetting, viewing.
Such as the case of violent sexual assault in Massachusetts during the mid-1980s known as the “Big Dan’s Rape”, where a 21-year-old woman was brutally raped by a group of men in a bar.
There was immediately a huge amount of community concern and media interest in the case, so the decision was made to present the trial as a live televisual event on CNN.
These seemingly disparate cases are brought together under an investigation of media’s influence in the carriage (and sometimes miscarriage) of justice.
Each episode follows a standard format where key events are presented in chronological order with interviews from the accused, victims, family members or witnesses followed by the defence lawyers before opening up to broader social and political commentary.
The series does a masterful job of weaving together all the different angles and narratives with slick production values and an economic pace.
However it often feels as though broader social and political threads of homophobia, racial profiling and miscarriage of justice that surface throughout the series could be further developed.
Instead, the series remains as an objective witness to these events without ever weighing in about the gravity of these courtroom decisions or the resulting social change brought about in the communities affected.
True crime has always been a remarkably popular genre across almost every media platform: Books, TV series, podcasts, and films.
This is particularly pronounced in a country like Australia, where the construction of the national identity is intrinsically tied to larrikinism and rule-breaking.
Perhaps best symbolised in the worship of the infamous outlaw Ned Kelly and more recently confirmed by the resounding success of all six seasons of Underbelly or the true-crime podcast series The Teacher’s Pet.
Trial By Media is set within an American context and it’s likely that Australian audiences will be unfamiliar with most of these reportedly “high-profile” cases – except for perhaps Blagojevich, who made several appearances on American talk shows like The Daily Show and made international news at the start of the year when Donald Trump commuted his 14-year corruption sentence.
However the narratives of corruption and miscarriage are sure to have broad appeal and will more than likely find a captive audience here.
Trial By Media will be screening on Netflix from Monday, May 11