True Crime Docuseries Review: Murder Among the Mormons

 Murder Among the Mormons is a three part true crime docuseries, released on Netflix in March of 2021.  It focuses on Mark Hoffman, a prodigy in the world of historical Mormon documents who turned to murder to hide his crimes of forgery.

I knew nothing of Hoffman, and did not know the importance of history and documents within the Mormon Church.  Not only was I learning about one of the most prolific forgers in history, but I was also discovering aspects about the Mormons that I had not been previously aware of.  Directors Jared Hess (yes, the Jared Hess behind Napoleon Dynamite) and Tyler Measom do very well to deliver the facts, the people, and the content in an informative and interesting way.

There are numerous interviews with people who were very close to the situation, and the insight that they were able to provide was key to the successes of this docuseries.  The flow of the narrative uses the interviews effectively to spin the tale in an effective fashion.  It is the story itself that is the most captivating element of Murder Among the Mormons, which may mean that people who know a lot about Hoffman may not find it as intriguing as myself.

While a lot here is quite good and well done, there are a few moments with reenactments that really feel out of place and tonally against what the series had set up.  The acting, the editing style, and the direction all battled against the established tone, making these few moments feel like the visual equivalent of fingernails running down a chalkboard.  For those who don't know, chalkboards are a relic from the past that old fuddy-duds like myself reference from time to time.

As much as I enjoyed the story, the talking heads, and the narrative, there was a massive issue that I had with the series as a whole.  Modern true crime docuseries generally follow a similar format.  They are usually three or four episodes, and the perpetrator of the crime is caught either at the end of the second to last episode, or the beginning of the final episode.

What happens in that last episode is documenting the capture, trial, and fallout from the activities of the criminal.  The big problem with Murder Among the Mormons is that there just wasn't enough material to properly fill that final episode.  The dedication to this format left me continually checking how much time was left in the third part because I was bored and wanted Hess and Measom to just get to the darned point.

Formats are fine when they work, but when your material doesn't suit them, the formulas should be abandoned.  I have a theory that with Joe Berlinger producing (a man who churns out such content, and almost always to a high level), this format may have been enforced because it's how Berlinger does it.  I could be very wrong, but the problem remains.  The third episode lacked the information packed nature of the first two, and sticking within this established format left the series ending much less spectacularly than it began.

There was a lot of solid insight in that final episode, such as seeing just how heartless and self focused Hoffman is, and how after being convicted he tried to get people to murder the members of the parole board.  We also learn how he was able to forge the documents in a way that fooled experts.  All very interesting material, but spread so thin over fifty eight minute run time that any great effect is lost.  This is a case where one size doesn't fit all, and alterations from the norm were needed to properly tell this story.

Rating - 2.5 out of 4 stars