Originally written in 2018
There have been two true crime shows that have gripped me recently. To be fair I'm easily gripped. One was the magnificent The Detectives (Murder on the Streets) on BBC2 and the other was Netflix's The Confession Tapes. Both shows demonstrated strong storytelling techniques. This is something we've come to expect from our true crime diets (Serial, Making a Murder, etc.) But one of the two fell short of creating a unified sound world to really make its stories immersive. The thing that I found interesting is that the one that falls short is the one without a composer.
The Confession Tapes gives us a string of stories about individuals who have been convicted based on false confessions. The thing that makes the show compelling is also the thing that makes it so frustrating. We're constantly asking ourselves: how can this happen? It's a great watch. But I found myself being consistently brought out of the world by the music. More specifically by the lack of consistency in the music.
I've searched the interwebs for the name of composer, but have come up short-handed. There are listings on IMDB for sound editing, but nothing for composing or musical supervisor. So I'm assuming (maybe incorrectly) that there isn't one and therefore the way the soundtrack lurches from style and instrumentation makes sense. I don't mean from episode to episode, I mean within an episode itself. One minute we're in piano-meets-string town, the next its over to synth-ville, via bluegrass. The styles move from surface emotion to surface emotion. The individual pieces are all well and good as standalone pieces, but they have the distinct feel of library music. They feel like they lack a point of view.
The Detectives on the other hand gives us a sonic landscape. Andrew Philips' score for all four episodes builds a set of tones and emotions that blend perfectly with both the dark world in which the stories take place. But the score also allows for relief. We're allowed to breathe with the characters as we see the lives of the detectives and those involved in the crimes in Manchester. But Philips never resorts to simplistic emotional themes/tropes. Here we also have a range of instruments employed, but there is a consistent palette. Strings and synths take on emotional characteristics that support the narrative, locations and people of this world. It's believable and it never jars with the storytelling experience.
Not every production can hire a composer - well, actually I'm not sure that's true given how affordable production is these days. But every production should strive to understand the power of a score in setting the context of the story world. Libraries are a great resource if they're used by production companies that understand how they fit together. It doesn't take much to select sets of music that work consistently, but I fear we'll only see more and more 'throwing in the kitchen sink' when it comes to library use. Such a crime!