Best Of 2022: True-crime hopes and dreams
What we -- and you -- want from the genre in '23
We’ve come to the end of our holiday round-up, which saw our esteemed panelists listing their top true-crime books, docs, pods, and more from 2022; discussing less successful genre works; and looking ahead to properties they’re psyched for next year.
Today we wrap things up with huge thanks to our talented and sweet-smelling panel — and a big-picture question on their hopes for the true-crime genre in the coming year. Here’s what they had to say…
Andy Dehnart, reality TV critic and the editor of reality blurred: “I'd love to see a return to TV projects that seem necessary, rather than just filling some space on a streaming service, exploiting victims and making suspects' lives hell just to rack up a few hours of viewing time. The shows that seemed to me to kick off this current wave—Making a Murderer and Serial—were absolutely imperfect, but also clearly were the result of time and effort. In short, I'd love to see: fewer shows, more time, less exploitative faux investigations, and more research and effort.”
Elizabeth Held, author of What To Read If: “I have a big-picture dream and a small, specific one.
Big-picture: I’d love to see more properties that put individual cases into the broader picture to help us understand how our justice system works and where it needs improvement. When I look at my favorites of 2022, they all combined stories of wild crimes with an exploration of the systems that made them possible. I want more of this.
Specific: I’m really hoping someone does a deep-dive on the legacy of the first season of Serial in light of Adnan Syed’s release, the documentary and Rabia Chaudry’s podcast. What did it get right? Where did it go wrong? How does it hold up?”
Margaret Howie, the co-founder of Space Fruit Press and editor of the Three Weeks newsletter: “We’ve all learned to lower our expectations and had hope beaten out of us for the last few years, so I’m not holding out for much. BUT! If I could make a wish on the Ann Rule Memorial New Year’s Cornbread, it’d be for the end of [the] ‘True Crime All Sucks Except This One Thing’ critical approach. I’d like to see a wide release for ‘All the Beauty and the Bloodshed,’ which I’ve yet to see but am determined to love, and for it to herald some really interesting documentary work to break through from the algorithmic slop. That said, if there’s a Netflix slapped-together 12-part Twitter Death Knell series I’ll be right there in the trough, lapping it up.”
Sarah Weinman, author of Scoundrel and New York Times crime-fiction columnist: “True crime has long concerned itself with providing answers. In order for it to move forward, it has to ask a lot more questions. The best of the genre already does, and my hope is that new properties in whatever medium will keep doing that. (Shorter answer: read Evidence of Things Seen!)”
Susan Howard, Best Evidence contributor: “My hopes are that true crime as a genre continues on a path of harnessing its popularity to dive deeper into big questions around justice, equity, and human fallibility, while still remaining compelling and entertaining.”
Tara Ariano, TV critic and co-host of Listen To Sassy: “It feels like Ryan Murphy's Dahmer and Peacock's Casey Anthony doc were both turning points that made a broader swath of people question the purpose/artistic value/stealth bad politics/straight-up poor taste of a lot of true crime media, and I hope creators will be more thoughtful about why they want to tell these stories, then how to do it, and whether they should do it at all.”
Toby Ball, host of Strange Arrivals and co-host of Crime Writers On…: “I feel as though the dramatic adaptations of true crime cases are getting much better. I hope that trend continues. I also hope that production companies continue to support highly-reported true crime podcasts. The fate of APM Reports, I think, shook up a lot of people and the blowback showed how valued high-quality true crime content is.”
All fantastic answers, and it’s tempting to just hike a thumb at these smarties and say, “What they said” — but my actual answer is slightly different, to wit: I’d like to see more formal flexibility in the genre. I interacted with so many true-crime stories in the last year that could have jumped from B/B-pluses to As if they’d just obeyed their stories’ own instincts for how long to be, or whom to foreground, or whether to exist at all…and I understand that producers need to eat and that the choice isn’t “Netflix four-parter or feature doc” but more like “Netflix four-parter or it doesn’t get made.” But if Netflix wants to continue leading in the genre, it and other distribution entities need to think about this shit too. Respect for format reflects respect for subject, IMO.
So here’s to the creators who tried it differently, and here’s to the consumers who expect better than a Wikipedia write-around.
What do you hope for from true crime in 2023, and beyond?
We hope you’ll keep making Best Evidence as compelling to do and think about as you’ve always done; y’all are a gift to us. — SDB and EB
Give yourselves the gift of a paid subscription — for less! Last day for that sale price, $50 for the year.
Next week on Best Evidence: We’re off for Boxing Day, then back with the last budget clear-off of the year, plus trial updates, other people’s best-of lists, Kaep’s production slate, and much more. Happy merry and we’ll see you then!
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“if there’s a Netflix slapped-together 12-part Twitter Death Knell series I’ll be right there in the trough, lapping it up.” Just tell me what to bring, Margaret, and I’ll be right there with you -- I know of a recipe for Schadenfreude Pie, which might be just the thing.
I want more of “I Am A Killer”-like things that give criminals the ability to gently hoist themselves with their own petards. (Also can’t wait to hear what SDB and EB say about the latest season.) I’d like more focus on women who have committed crimes, and whether the judicial system in any country has treated them fairly. I’d like less focus on lying liars who lie (Casey Anthony) and more focus on cold cases. I’d like legal fees capped in high-visibility cases, and that would include what the prosecution could spend on exhibits and experts against indigent defendants. I’d like better training for police in how to deal with domestic violence, and how to deal with unconscious bias. I’d also like drug legalization because the war on drugs is a waste of time and energy. And I’d like a really good show about all the murdered women in Mexico. Since I’ve been an extraordinarily good girl this year, I also expect ALL this to come true!😉