Ever since the sleeper hit “Making a Murderer” became a national phenomenon and the topic of every water cooler conversation in America, Netflix has been churning out true crime documentaries on what seems to be a weekly basis. Every time someone opens the app or the website, there’s a new miniseries with a shocking premise that is just begging to be binged over the weekend. Netflix’s latest foray into this burgeoning and quickly-staling sub-genre of documentary is its short miniseries “Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez.”
Documenting the notorious rise and fall of Aaron Hernandez, NFL legend and convicted murderer—a story which reads almost as a contemporary Greek tragedy—the series examines Aaron’s psychology from his early childhood to adulthood as well as what motivated his descent into self-destruction.
However, the series, limited by the trappings and conventions of the true crime docuseries along with running at just three episodes, doesn’t give any of the theories surrounding his motivations enough time to develop into a compelling narrative. Rather, it merely presents the facts of the case and some insights from high school friends and colleagues, which ultimately results in what feels like a very long episode of “Dateline” or “60 Minutes.”
The series does focus somewhat on the victims of Hernandez’ murderous rage, such as Odin Lloyd and his surviving family members, which is admirable and necessary. Few documentaries find time to focus on the pain of those affected by the crime—reminding their audiences these cases are not just fluff entertainment. These were real murders with real consequences.
It also presents a number of potential motivations for Hernandez’s spiraling mental health—everything from his highly conservative and abusive father to his mother’s affair with an uncle immediately following his father’s death when Hernandez was 16 to his repressed bisexuality, which is the narrative the series runs with the longest. However, in its final episode, it shifts focus away from this narrative when it finally decides to include interviews with friends and lawyers who believe Hernandez’ repressed sexuality had little to do with his crimes.
The film also mentions the fascinating fact that Hernandez’s brain, examined after his death, was found to have a disturbing amount of irreparable brain damage—leading to an increased public discussion surrounding chronic traumatic encephalopathy, also known as CTE, and its role in future aberrant behavior.
The final episode also introduces a chilling possibility that Patriots owners and staff assisted Hernandez in maintaining his double-life—raising questions about the NFL’s role in the violence due to their unwillingness to fully address CTE. However, this thread is lost among the many others the series crams into its three-hour runtime.
An episode dedicated to the NFL with attempts to track down representatives for an interview would’ve given the series a sense of narrative urgency and involvement. This isn’t just a series of events that have come to pass, but an ongoing investigation. Or perhaps more time dedicated to discussing the again, ongoing research about CTE’s correlation with violence and poor impulse control. Sadly, the series doesn’t find this idea nearly as exciting as a potential viewer might. Instead, it retreads the same ideas over and over again regarding Hernandez’s potential shame regarding his sexuality and his internalized rage.
Ultimately, the feeling left with a viewer after “Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez” is blandness. Even the title seems spawned from a Netflix true crime word soup generator.
There are superior true crime documentaries like ”O.J.: Made in America,” “The Ted Bundy Tapes,” and “The Inventor,” which may inspire repeat viewings. Those documentaries present many threads as well, but have a sense of a driving narrative through all of them. Most importantly, they are constructed in such a way that allows their threads to feel like pieces of a larger puzzle rather than a strand of conjectures and wild theories. Not to mention, even in the cases of O.J. and Ted Bundy whose criminal trials are long past and set in stone, the filmmakers were able to draw comparisons with current-day events. This leaves enough time to see the evolution of those involved in the cases over the years through combining archival footage and more recent interviews.
The Hernandez case is too fresh to have some sort of clinical distance from—to see how his family and the victims’ families have grown since the event. The theories on the causes of Hernandez’ violence are still in the speculative phase.
At the end of the day, there simply isn’t enough content to warrant a docuseries. “The Mind of Aaron Hernandez” is worth a casual viewing, but it is an unfortunate example of true crime oversaturation and formulaic documentary storytelling, a small fish in a big pond of strikingly similar products. And that’s not what anyone involved in this documentary—who have all had to dig up their past traumas and emotional pain—deserves.
Matt Cotter can be reached at email@example.com, or on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.