'Killing Fields': TV Review

Killing Fields Still - H 2015
Courtesy of Discovery
Fascinating, if not up to 'Jinx' or 'Making a Murderer' standards.

A new entry in the blossoming true crime TV genre, Discovery's six-episode series revolves around a haunting cold case.

True crime is having a moment.

From the Serial podcast to The Jinx to Netflix’s current Making a Murderer, TV is currently captivating viewers with stories of people accused of committing horrific acts.

So Discovery Channel’s Killing Fields, premiering Tuesday at 10 p.m. comes along at the perfect moment in the pop-culture zeitgeist. The docuseries from executive producers Tom Fontana (Homicide, Oz) and Barry Levinson (Rain Man, Good Morning Vietnam) follows Louisiana detective Rodie Sanchez, who comes out of retirement to reopen a cold case he began investigating 18 years ago.

In 1997, the body of Eugenie Boisfontaine was found mutilated and decomposing in a watery ditch in Iberville Parish. Sanchez was never able to solve the crime. "I’m retired, but in my mind and in my heart, I’m not," he tells his former boss Major Ronnie Hebert.

Sanchez gets the okay to reopen the case and has a team of detectives assigned to work with him. He is partnered with Aubrey St. Angelo, the son of a detective he worked with for many years. The hook of the series is that it unfolds in almost real time with the first episode beginning in August 2015. The six-episode show is currently filming, so the audience will learn things not long after the detectives do. The title refers to an area that becomes a place for dumping bodies, because the landscape and conditions of the area wash away evidence (making it nearly impossible to solve the crime).

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Fontana and Levinson probably couldn’t write a better TV character than Sanchez or create a better TV setting than Iberville Parish. The lush vegetation of this part of Louisiana comes to life, as does the parish’s dark underbelly, with its array of interesting characters that seem straight out of True Blood.

Sanchez kept Boisfontaine's picture up by his desk until he retired. Haunted by the fact that he told Boisfontaine’s mother that he would catch her killer, and that he broke that promise, he works the case old-school style, talking to informants and re-interviewing just about everybody involved. He doesn’t have time to sit at the computer and "google."

With a distinct accent, Sanchez speaks in turns of phrase right out of a Hollywood blockbuster. When he finds a killer, he remarks: "I love looking them in the frickin’ eye and saying I caught you, you no-good bastard." He laments that Boisfontaine was thrown "in the ditch like a piece of trash" and wants to "let this poor family know what happened to their daughter."

His rapport with St. Angelo is reminiscent of a buddy cop movie. "I don’t know how you did it in 1920," St. Angelo teases him and advises him to update his ring tone. "If I wanted to hear music I’d listen to a band, I don’t need to hear it on my phone," Sanchez replies.

And the case is a good one. The advancement of DNA makes catching Boisfontaine’s killer more likely — as does the fact that there’s now a centralized Louisiana database. Boisfontaine’s murder was one of a string of killings that occurred in Louisiana during that time. So there’s also the possibility that her killer is already in prison for other crimes. Sanchez cares deeply, as does the entire Iberville Parish Sherriff’s office; everyone seems highly competent and dedicated.

Still, something is missing. For one thing, and maybe this will come in later episodes, there are no interviews that bring Boisfontaine to life. Sanchez wants to be able to tell the victim's mother who killed her daughter, but the mother isn’t seen in the premiere.

But what’s really missing is something Serial, The Jinx and Making a Murderer all had: a suspect. In those other crime series, part of the thrill was watching a killer get caught or being outraged at how the justice system was failing an innocent man.

Perhaps all that is yet to come. In any case, Killing Fields at least generates anxiety and a desire to see what happens next. I'm counting on Sanchez to solve the crime.

Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on Discovery Channel.

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