Law in Popular Culture

Screen Rant: True-crime cable shows can be long on repetition and short on authoritative sources

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Recently, I wrote a blog post about 65 artificial intelligence-powered automatic license plate reader cameras in the Oklahoma City area. I try not to be a conspiracy theorist, but it’s hard to think these cameras are solely used to track and observe vehicles instead of the people driving them.

After all, we already had 25 cameras in use. Why do we need more?

I understand that the city wants to police its population. Cameras can help identify vehicles involved in crime. Still, I won’t believe for one second that the authorities are simply interested in the plate attached to the vehicle and not the person driving the vehicle attached to the plate.

And I’m not surprised. Even without the additional cameras, there are countless recording devices around (and in) every corner of our world. Everyone has a camera in their pocket capable of recording video that would have required expensive equipment 15 years ago. Consequently, our society is not light on recorded calamity. Add in attempts to “go viral,” and we see a significant impact on not only the individuals being filmed but also the amateur videographers.

There is the implicit potential of suffering injury or other harm while attempting to record an event that you believe could lead to internet fame. If the incident is something you think will “blow up” online, it’s likely due to the inherent shock value the recording could convey. Shocking content is often a result of dangerous actions.

Speaking of which, I came across Crimes Gone Viral on Max, the video-on-demand service formerly known as HBO, while scrolling through its true-crime catalog. The series is in its fourth season, yet I had never heard of it. The title caught my attention, and the installments were approximately 20 minutes long, so I decided to digest a few offerings.

Final verdict? The show could be better. However, there must be something to the series; a spinoff, Crimes Gone Viral: Eyewitness, ran for at least one season in 2022.

The commentary may be the worst aspect. The voices we hear as the videos play rarely belong to “experts” in criminal law or procedure. The sampling I viewed contained nothing more than play-by-play recitations from individuals with titles such as “true-crime podcaster,” relaying what is apparent from the video itself. To be fair, one episode included a “behavioral psychiatrist” (kudos on bringing an accredited professional to the program). Still, she didn’t provide the type of in-depth analysis you might expect from someone in her field.

The constant repetition of the same videos is also annoying. Having someone explain what you are watching in real time is one issue; having the clip they described played multiple times, often in quick succession, as they describe the obvious is next-level aggravating. Under this format, the show would be more palatable if about three-quarters of the runtime were cut.

It is nothing more than a “paint by numbers” glorified regurgitation of videos you could easily find on YouTube.

It makes sense that there would be a large audience for these videos. But if you enjoy the kind of material portrayed on Crime Gone Viral, you’d be better served finding a well-produced YouTube channel that relays more footage without the need to drag out a 30-second clip into a 10-minute discussion. Don’t care for any lay commentary at all? Plenty of X (formerly Twitter) feeds consolidate this type of content from across the web and relay the footage without the incessant play-by-play.

I’m not surprised by my adverse reaction to Crimes Gone Viral. I’ve seen plenty of these projects, and some are inevitably better than others. This one in particular is simply too repetitive, lacks analysis and does nothing to further or expand the genre.

A better approach would be to bring in credentialed individuals who can offer more in-depth analysis of the facts and circumstances surrounding the videos while operating from a “compare and contrast” perspective. You won’t convince me there isn’t enough material to create episodes focusing on more than two or three clips at a time. To limit the amount of information and rely on play-by-play commentary is just lazy.

I would prefer segments that are more closely woven together. Crimes Gone Viral tries to categorize the videos it shows based on a general theme, but it’s relatively generic—there’s an episode titled “Fiery Attacks” and another called “Surprise Attack.” Having more continuity and playing off the different episodes and their themes could also help differentiate the show.

But that all presupposes that the production team is interested in setting the series apart from its competitors. For now, they seem contempt with their subpar product.

Adam Banner May 2023

Adam Banner

Adam R. Banner is the founder and lead attorney of the Oklahoma Legal Group, a criminal defense law firm in Oklahoma City. His practice focuses solely on state and federal criminal defense. He represents the accused against allegations of sex crimes, violent crimes, drug crimes and white-collar crimes.

The study of law isn’t for everyone, yet its practice and procedure seems to permeate pop culture at an increasing rate. This column is about the intersection of law and pop culture in an attempt to separate the real from the ridiculous.

This column reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily the views of the ABA Journal—or the American Bar Association.

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