Primetimer editor-at-large Sarah D. Bunting knows a thing or two about true crime. She founded the true crime site The Blotter, and is the host of its weekly podcast, The Blotter Presents. Her weekly column here on Primetimer is dedicated to all things true crime on TV.
[Content Warning: The docuseries and this review contain discussions of child sexual abuse.]
You might have forgotten about Outcry, the five-part docuseries about Greg Kelley, a rising Texas high-school football star convicted of child molestation in 2014, and his quest for a new trial on charges he's consistently claimed he's not guilty of. Showtime was set to debut the series back in April, but postponed it due to the pandemic, and while headline-news matters haven't necessarily improved in the interim, Outcry is forging ahead with a Sunday July 5 premiere — and I recommend it for a number of reasons.
For starters, director Pat Kondelis also helmed The Radical Story Of Patty Hearst and Disgraced. The latter, which also aired on Showtime, is about the 2003 murder of Baylor University basketball star Patrick Dennehy by a teammate and the subsequent cover-up — which speaks to Kondelis's facility not just with true-crime stories generally, but with true-crime stories that 1) take place in Texas, and 2) involve sports figures. The way sports and crime/corruption braid themselves together can lead to some damp sermonizing regardless of the medium in which the stories get told. Kondelis is able to keep his equipment dry, and let the footage speak for itself, in the tradition of other great docuseries that are about sports in name, but about so much more in reality, like Last Chance U or QB1.
In addition to getting extraordinary access — to the accused, Greg Kelley; his family and his girlfriend; his attorneys; and trial footage and CPS interviews of victims — Kondelis managed to glue my butt to the seat for difficult and maddening episodes that clock in at around an hour each, and induce me to avoid Googling the outcome. "I didn't look anything up on my phone" might not sound like high praise, but I've mentioned the Google-Proof Quotient before, and in this line of work, it's rare that a property holds my attention that well. Outcry isn't just like watching a car wreck happen in real time; it's like watching the wreckage smolder, for years on end, as attorneys hide behind privilege and judges punt decisions to higher courts. I did make the mistake of looking up one key figure in Kelley's case, for reasons unrelated to Kondelis's ability to keep me focused, and I advise you to resist. (It may prove difficult simply because some of the names of those involved are so chewy and fictional-sounding. Jana Duty! Geoffrey (Game Of Thrones-ily pronounced "Joffrey") Puryear! Sunday Austin and her massive perm! District Attorney Shawn Dick! And that's not mentioning the actual, literal Texas Rangers.)
But Kondelis knows exactly how to build and pace his story. Critics got three screeners, and towards the end of the third, serious doubts arise as to the innocence of the figure the film has positioned to that point as a railroaded martyr... and pretty much guaranteed I'd catch up with the remaining episodes when they arrive. (Outcry will air weekly on Showtime proper, but the entire series comes out all at once on the network's streaming channels, and in my opinion, this one's better marathoned.) Along the way, Kondelis has expertly woven in references to other "panic" cases involving alleged abuses of children, including the McMartin case and the lesser-known San Antonio Four debacle. He's nodded to the intensity of internet-based crusaders for justice on behalf of convicts they've never even met, here in the person of Jake Brydon and his bullhorn. He's gently introduced the idea that a small child's "outcry" can proceed from suggestions planted — whether unwittingly, or purposefully — by the way questions are phrased. He's just as gently reminded the viewer how often jury holdouts, confronted by having to spend the night in a hotel (and force their restive fellow jurors to do so as well), will let themselves be worn down in the balloting so that they can go home and not make the group mad.
And if you're still vague on why recent protests have centered on defunding the police due to a wretched and possibly criminal lack of accountability, one Detective Dailey of the Cedar Park police will make the point infuriatingly clear. Was Dailey censured for failing to investigate any other suspects besides Kelley; for cold-calling other parents who used the daycare where the crime allegedly took place in order to bolster his case with a second victim; for misleading the district attorney about that second victim; or for announcing on the court record that the goal of any investigation is not to find the truth or to get justice for the victim, but "successful prosecution"? You probably know the answer already, but I won't spoil it for you.
Again, Outcry isn't an easy watch. SOMETHING happened to these kids, and the law-enforcement contact and social-worker interviews take their toll, too. And then there's the sense that, if Kelley is innocent, his fate could befall any of us, thanks not to nefarious machinations on the part of the police but mere laziness and/or ineptitude — and his fate is especially likely to befall suspects of color. The bright spot here is Kondelis' narrative: a hideous crime was committed, and an injustice may have been done in the name of avenging it, but five hours of careful and compelling investigation into how this happened — and how we might correct it, then avoid it in future — have been made. And that's better than nothing.
Outcry premieres on Showtime Sunday, July 5th at 10:00 PM ET.
Sarah D. Bunting co-founded Television Without Pity, and her work has appeared in Glamour and New York, and on MSNBC, NPR's Monkey See blog, MLB.com, and Yahoo!. She's also the editor-in-chief and publisher of Tomato Nation, and true-crime blog and podcast The Blotter Presents.