The popularity of true crime drama has risen thanks to the success of NPR podcast “Serial” and “Making a Murderer” on Netflix. Hoping to benefit from this trend is Discovery with “Killing Fields,” a docu-reality TV series that follows the re-opening of a cold-case murder in real time. Despite some moments that feel manufactured, the show sets a good pace for an intriguing mystery.
Retired homicide detective Rodie Sanchez and his still active partner Detective Aubrey St. Angelo of Iberville Parish in Louisiana re-open the case of Eugenie Boisfontaine, who at the time of her murder, was a 34 year-old graduate student at Louisiana State University. Her body was found in Bayou Manchac in 1997. The cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head. Rodie was the original detective assigned to the case, a murder he says, that has haunted him ever since.
The banter between Rodie and Aubrey often comes across as forced. Aubrey makes fun of Rodie’s age and dietary choices, for example and Rodie’s to-camera interview segments are repetitive and scattered with phrases that coincidentally make great sound bites. But both Aubrey and Rodie are colorful Louisiana characters (Rodie has been married six times—on another network, that would be a reality show in itself) who fit into the Discovery casting model found in shows like “Moonshiners,” the lead-in series for “Killing Fields.”
Rodie’s mission to solve Boisfontaine’s murder moves away from sound bite territory into something more authentic when he admits that his need to solve the case is about more than bringing closure to her family. He understands the loneliness he believes she felt after her divorce and thinks it is what may have lead to her murder. It’s a personal moment that makes Rodie relatable and adds a poignant layer to Eugenie’s story.
Louisiana’s bayous are here cast as one of many killing fields across the country, giving the series potential longevity. But what may make these particular killing fields work, aside from the personalities of the detectives, is the success of the first season of “True Detective” which also featured the state’s landscapes. The production uses the landscape imagery successfully with multiple shots of bayous and one particular scene that features Rodie and Aubrey watching the nighttime burn of a sugar cane field.
The series has a good pace, which is a testament to the creative team’s skill in quickly responding to real time developments. Not knowing if newly discovered evidence is going to lead to anything is risky story telling, as is the possibility that the case may not be solved before the series ends. Viewers need to be invested in the trip the detectives take them on rather than the outcome. Despite a few bumps in the road, “Killing Fields” is a journey worth taking.
“Killing Fields” is on Tuesdays at 10 p.m. EDT on Discovery.
Melissa Crawley is the author of “Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television’s ‘The West Wing.’” She has a Ph.D. in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.