THE DOCU-SERIES “The Killing Season”
WHEN | WHERE Premieres Saturday at 9 p.m. on A&E
WHAT IT’S ABOUT The premiere season of A&E’s new docu-crime series attempts to crack the Long Island serial killer case — which began with the 2010 discovery of the remains of four female “escorts” near Gilgo Beach. The eight-episode series is executive produced by Alex Gibney (“Going Clear,” “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room”) and narrated and reported by producers Josh Zeman and Rachel Mills. The duo, who also appear frequently on air, explore various leads, and then head to Atlantic City, Florida, Oklahoma and Albuquerque to explore other serial murder cases. The first two hours, and parts of the eighth, are concerned with the so-called “Long Island serial killer.”
MY SAY After eight hours of navigating their way through some half-dozen other cold cases involving (perhaps) the murder of potentially hundreds of women, mostly sex workers, Zeman and Mills do not find the Long Island serial killer. That revelation hardly requires the obligatory “spoiler alert,” because if they had, you certainly wouldn’t be reading about this for the first time in a TV review.
Perhaps seeking the sort of spectacular closer that Andrew Jarecki and Marc Smerling achieved in HBO’s “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst,” they instead find . . . more bodies, or at least the grim, haunted places where their remains were found. Theirs is a trail of tears and horrors, unleavened by any sort of closure — either for them or the victims’ families and friends.
Yet, from a viewer perspective, it only gets worse. Marred by theatrics and typical gimcrackery of most true-crime docs — including a spooky synth music soundtrack and on-screen crosstalk between the producers of the faux-spontaneous variety — “The Killing Season” can also be messy and, at times, ethically questionable journalism. The activist-reporter/sleuths breathlessly pick up leads, then drop them. They hire a prostitute for an evening to drive her to her various appointments, which — they concede — is probably illegal. They scour a popular website, Websleuth, for information and sources, while picking up “tips” that even a casual Google search could turn up. That aforementioned crosstalk also yields occasionally painful malapropisms. For instance, here’s Mills, upon learning that the remains of a toddler and her mother were buried miles apart on South Shore beaches: “He could at least have had the decency to bury them together.”
Now that you have been warned, consider the virtues of “The Killing Season.” Like all intrepid activist-reporters, Mills and Zeman bring compassion to their quest, which at times actually ennobles it. Something horrific has happened to these women, who are — as one writer calls them — the “missing missing.” Per “Season,” most are unknown to police because they were never reported missing in the first place, or if they were, a dilatory response by the police virtually ensured they would never be found.
Mills and Zeman are looking for big patterns over these hours, and after a while, some of those become acutely self-evident. Among them is so-called “linkage blindness,” which has prevented law enforcement — they argue — from finding connections to the crimes simply because that would mean crossing state or jurisdictional boundaries.
Best of all are Mills and Zeman’s efforts to humanize some of those victims. Rather than settle for a headshot of a young woman who had become another statistic, they seek out friends and relatives. They want to find out who she was, and who she left behind. “Our loved ones are the victims,” concludes Zeman, “and no one has the right to deny them justice.”
However flawed they may be, these eight, hard hours make that irrefutably clear.
BOTTOM LINE Not nearly enough fresh information on the Long Island case, and cluttered with tangents that seem to lead nowhere, “The Killing Season” still makes its case — a terrifying one.