In recent years, true crime has been a hot genre. From the runaway success of podcasts like Serial to Netflix’s Making a Murderer, audiences have shown an appetite for deep dives into controversial cases and critiques on our criminal justice system. Tonight, ABC enters the ring with their new docuseries program The Last Defense.
Executive produced by How to Get Away with Murder star Viola Davis, The Last Defense shares the stories of death row inmates who have maintained their innocence and whose convictions may deserve another look. First up is the case of Darlie Routier — a Texas mother found guilty of murdering her two children, although she claims the heinous crime was done at the hands of an intruder who broke into their home. Throughout the first four episodes of the series, the show looks at the details of the crime, a piece-by-piece examination of the evidence presented at trial and what it means, and the efforts that have been made to appeal Routier’s conviction since.
One of the things I really appreciated about The Last Defense is that, while the show makes no bones about its intent, it still plays fair and gives both sides their time. For example, throughout the Routier episodes, the program includes interviews with both the defense and prosecution attornies who offer insight into why they maintain the positions that they do. Even if the program then rebuts claims by prosecutors or, in one case, even challenges them on camera, letting their side speak for itself brought an integrity to the series that similar shows have been criticized for lacking.
Something that must be noted about The Last Defense is that it’s not always easy to watch. In addition to some gory and heartbreaking scenes, investing yourself in the story can also be a rollercoaster of emotion. On that note, I’ll admit I enjoyed the benefit of being able to binge the subsequent episodes while ABC viewers will, unfortunately, have to wait to see how the story develops each week.
In the opening for the show, Davis’ voiceover shares a startling statistic: each year, on average, five death row inmates are released after their innocence is discovered. As a result, The Last Defense is meant to serve as just that — raising reasonable doubt on the cases of convicts who may soon be set to die. Following the premiere episodes featuring Routier’s case, ABC’s new docuseries will also look at Julius Jones, a former college athlete convicted of killing a man in a carjacking incident. Personally, I hope the show has the opportunity to pursue more cases after this.
Even if true crime has proven popular among audiences, there’s still a risk for ABC in making The Last Defense. This isn’t so much a monetary risk as a credibility one as you can only imagine what would happen if some damning evidence were to emerge about one of the inmates the program stumped for. That said, I believe that while the show may be focusing on just a few individuals, its true goal is to shine a light on the system at large — and, in my view, it succeeds.
With great production value, seemingly strong integrity, and a noble intent, The Last Defense is not only engaging but important. While it’s the type of show that would fit perfectly on a platform like Netflix, airing on a network (in this case, ABC) will hopefully mean even more attention will be paid to these cases in particular and a larger problem overall. In all, I’m excited about the prospects of this program and hope it can make the progress that it seeks.
I give ABC’s The Last Defense 5 out of 5 acquittals. The new series premieres June 12th at 10 p.m. on ABC.