Death Row Stories

TV review by
Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media
Death Row Stories TV Poster Image
Docuseries offers justice-system lessons, graphic images.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

Issues are complex, but human rights and justice are upheld.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The show often spotlights crusaders who help unjustly convicted prisoners secure release; such people are powerful role models.


Murders, robberies, rapes, and other crimes are described graphically, with reenactments as well as photographs from real-life crime scenes. Scary music, camera angles, and imagery may be traumatizing to young children. Viewers see blood and some gore, as well as dead bodies with their faces obscured.


Sex and sexual assault may be discussed as an aspect of crime.


Very occasional curse words such as "hell."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Drugs or alcohol are sometimes mentioned related to crimes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Death Row Stories is an intense documentary series about capital murder cases. Though it champions justice and human rights and may be useful for teaching teens about justice, each episode begins with a discussion of a terrible crime. The crime is graphically discussed, while ominous music plays and the viewer sees still shots of bloody crime scenes, dead bodies, body bags being loaded into mortuary trucks, and other potentially upsetting imagery. There are also some reenactment shots, though they tend to be of the artsy variety, rather than showing actual injuries or attacks.

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What's the story?

A lot of our faith in America's justice system depends on the idea that only the right people get arrested and convicted of crimes. But in DEATH ROW STORIES, we meet unjustly convicted criminals who upend that notion. Each episode of the dramatic docuseries focuses on a different serious crime. We hear the crime described and meet many of the people involved in its investigation as well as the purported criminal, who are each heard from in talking-head interview style, while narrator Susan Sarandon describes the intricacies of each case. Death Row Stories illustrates that while the criminal justice system can make mistakes, there are those willing to fight to right them.

Is it any good?

Though parents may be turned off by the horror-movie music and vivid descriptions of crime at the beginning of each episode of Death Row Stories, it's really no worse than your average episode of Law & Order: SVU, gorewise. After you get past the just-slightly-sensationalized murders, though, Death Row Stories follows the twisty turns of each case in a sensitive and very educational fashion that will teach teens and others interested in the legal process a lot about how crimes are prosecuted in our country.

What makes for an expert witness? Why do prosecutors sometimes offer snitches deals? What can happen to someone who's in the wrong place at the wrong time? These are the kinds of questions answered in each show, and the kinds of things parents will want to talk over after watching with teens. Many young people have a passionate interest in equality and fairness, and thus may be particularly interested in Death Row Stories' focus on the unfairly imprisoned.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about their perceptions of death row criminals. Do they deserve to be where they are? Do you pity them? Do you wonder if they are all guilty of the crimes they were convicted of? Does watching Death Row Stories change your mind?

  • Does watching this show make you afraid of prison? What about police officers? Do you have fears of being convicted falsely for a crime?

  • One of Death Row Stories' executive producers is actor Robert Redford, who is well known for having progressive views on a number of topics. Do you think Redford's views shaded his documentary series?

TV details

  • Premiere date: March 9, 2014
  • Cast: Susan Sarandon
  • Network: CNN
  • Genre: Drama
  • TV rating: NR
  • Last updated: September 20, 2019

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