Were you one of those commuters with headphones jammed into your ears, hanging off every single word of Serial last year? When Sarah Koenig’s acclaimed This American Life podcast – investigating the real-life murder of teenager Hae Min Lee and the conviction of her boyfriend Adnan Syed – ended the millions of listeners who tuned in were bereft.
Enter: The Jinx. It’s like Serial, only it’s on TV and features the astronomically wealthy Robert Durst. As in Serial, the narrative is hooked off a real-life case, but – if you can believe it – The Jinx is a far darker beast.
It all began with filmmaker Andrew Jarecki who directed Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst in All Good Things, the 2010 film about the son of a New York real estate mogul, David Marks (Gosling), who has connections with a series of murders and the disappearance of his wife (Dunst).
Marks is based on Durst who saw the film and called up Jarecki, offering to sit for a warts-and-all interview publicly discussing the accusations against him for the first time. There was plenty of material for Jarecki to explore – from the disappearance of Durst’s wife Kathleen and the cold-blooded murder of his best friend Susan Berman, to the killing of his neighbour, Morris Black, whose body was found dismembered and floating in bin bags in Galveston Bay, Texas. Durst had connections to all three cases but, crucially, was never convicted.
The Jinx portrays him as an eccentric. The eldest son and heir apparent to his father Seymour’s property empire, Robert was overlooked in 1992 in favour of his younger brother Douglas who still heads up the Durst empire. A family outcast, his interviews with Jarecki are illuminating in both their revelations and their apparent caginess. Yet it’s the director’s own investigative journalism that brings to light the narrative’s biggest developments, albeit coupled with his oft-clunky re-enactments of the various crimes discussed.
As stories go, Jarecki has struck gold. But, as with Serial before it, The Jinx also leaves the viewer with uncomfortable questions. Are the deaths of three people and the subsequent suffering of their loved ones a subject ripe for our viewing pleasure? Like Serial, we, the audience, witness an abundance of evidence and interviews, but yet again our material comes through the prism of an editing suite. Are we in any position to draw conclusions?
Then again, both programmes appear to expose staggering holes in the way these crimes were originally investigated, bringing what could be important new evidence to light. When filmmakers and investigative journalists are uncovering what police failed to spot, you could argue the ends justify the means.
In any case, you can’t ignore the fact that true crime is having its moment in the spotlight. Last year word-of-mouth hit Serial broke records, becoming the fastest podcast in iTunes history to reach 5m downloads. The Jinx went on to generate similar levels of obsession among American audiences and media when the six-part series aired on HBO earlier this spring – and comes to British viewers tonight at 9pm on Sky Atlantic where it will no doubt pique the interest of a brand new audience of aspiring amateur detectives.
If you do choose to watch, a word to the wise: don’t Google it until you’ve watched all six episodes. Since The Jinx aired in the US, there have been major developments and – while the reams of articles on the internet make for interesting reading – your ignorance will allow for a far more compelling experience.
The Jinx begins tonight at 9pm on Sky Atlantic