Show + tell with Paul Flynn
Follow the fascinating and gruesome twists and turns of The Staircase as it returns to Netflix
THE MONTHLY FIX of the BBC’S makeshift police station on Crimewatch was one of my beloved screen thrills when I was a child. After Top Of The Pops, it was probably my favourite show. I’m not quite sure where the morbid fascination with watching re-enactments of the murder of pensioners or low-level jewellery heists came from or, indeed, why the follow-up of a photo-fit would produce such a serotonin rush in a 12-year-old schoolboy but, seemingly, that need to engulf ourselves in other people’s crime stories has never gone away. Now I just watch them for 10 hours, often back-to-back.
By episode six of The Staircase, I had to ask myself, what are you getting out of all this? The latest real crime drama about to take a hold was first aired in 2005 on BBC Four. It concerns the hideous case of Kathleen Peterson, found at the bottom of her stairwell in the vast family home situated in Durham, North Carolina, by her husband, Mike. Was there foul play afoot? You don’t have to be Quincy to recognise all is not as it seems from the opening bars of the story. To add a further twist, Mike is a writer and ex-vietnam vet. As the seemingly perfect family life of the Petersons is unravelled, the picket-fence dream of America’s Christian family values unfolds as each layer of the story is peeled away.
The Staircase offers unique access to the case. Bereft family members, including Caitlin (Kathleen’s daughter), the Petersons’ two jock-ish sons, Todd and Clayton, and Mike’s adopted daughters, Martha and Margaret, join with forensic experts, defence teams of attorneys and investigating police officers and detectives to try and shine a light on whether Mike Peterson murdered his wife or not. It is pretty much routinely horrific viewing, saturated in further layers of institutional homophobia as Mike’s bisexuality is revealed alongside the duplicity of the dream of the nuclear family. For its new incarnation, three new episodes have been added to the series updating the story, bringing the murder case up to date, just like Crimewatch used to do, ‘after the news’.
The new extended series of The Staircase is a long time to invest in the Peterson case, a grim mirror held to the flux state of American family life. It begs a question about obsessive viewing habits. Is my compulsive streaming habit actually driving me nuts? Begins Friday, Netflix
The press surround Petersons’ lawyer and friend David Rudolf
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