Television may have found its own version of Serial in HBO’s new documentary series, The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst. The six-part show, chronicling the real-life events surrounding three murders, only just premiered on Sunday, but it’s already drawing comparisons to the hugely popular podcast that became a bonafide phenomenon late last year.
For those who haven’t yet heard of the project, The Jinx dives into the dark past of Durst, the son of a wealthy real estate mogul from Scarsdale, N.Y. In the fall of 2001, Durst was arrested in connection with the murder of his neighbor in a cheap apartment house in Galveston, Texas. He was acquitted in 2003, following claims of self-defense and an Asperger syndrome diagnosis, but that wouldn’t be the last time he drew suspicion for murder.
He was also tied to the sudden disappearance of his wife, Kathleen McCormack, in 1982, and to the killing of longtime friend Susan Berman, who was believed to have knowledge of McCormack’s disappearance. Though he was questioned in both cases, he was never charged in either. Now, the eccentric recluse reportedly lives in a townhouse in Harlem, N.Y.
The documentary series is directed by Andrew Jarecki, who also helmed the disturbing 2003 documentary Capturing the Friedmans. This isn’t the first time that Jarecki has brought Durst’s story to screen. He also directed the 2010 feature film All Good Things, which starred Ryan Gosling as Durst and Kirsten Dunst as McCormack.
As the beginning episodes of the documentary explain, the movie is what led Jarecki to the man himself. The typically withdrawn Durst apparently found All Good Things fair enough that he agreed to grant a lengthy interview for the very first time. It’s that interview that is now at the core of The Jinx.
Given the subject matter, it’s not hard to see why The Jinx has drawn so many comparisons to the Sarah Koenig-narrated Serial. As in the podcast, the show profiles the real crime story in pieces, interspersing narration and interviews with Durst and many of the other actual people involved in the deaths.
Of course, being a TV series, The Jinx has the advantage of employing visual representations. As evidenced in the trailer on the previous page, actors have been hired to recreate key scenes from Durst’s story. The show sometimes also incorporates cuts of the original broadcast news reports regarding McCormack’s disappearance.
But it’s getting to actually watch, as opposed to just listen to, the interviews that make the biggest difference. The one-on-ones with Durst are especially telling, as every single one of his often off-putting mannerisms is put on display. Whether or not you believe him guilty of the crimes he’s tied to, anyone who watches The Jinx will agree that Durst makes for, at the very least, unnerving company.
It’s this quality that has spurred some to actually declare the show the “anti-Serial,” despite their method of piece-by-piece storytelling. As Slate puts it, “The Jinx does relatively little of the step-by-step emotional hand-holding that Sarah Koenig did for the audience of Serial.”
Jarecki has also promised a more concrete conclusion for The Jinx, instead of the controversially vague way that Serial ended. “For that podcast, there’s a measure of ambiguity,” he told The Washington Post. “For us, I really do feel like everyone will be satisfied.”
The Jinx airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on HBO.