True crime documentaries are popular right now, and The Staircase, the first 8 episodes of which originally aired in 2005, is credited as being one of the early reasons why. After many years and imitators, it remains a uniquely powerful and extremely unsettling show that uses none of the "tricks" that more recent crime shows use. For example, the documentarian himself doesn't end up becoming involved with the story, as they do in The Jinx or Evil Genius; and because The Staircase wasn't beholden to typical television formatting, it doesn't build toward twists and reveals in each episode. That can take some getting used to.
Instead, The Staircase is less entertainment, and more of a "pure" documentary. Its power comes from getting know the charismatic Michael Peterson intimately, understanding his trial and defense, and meeting his family, all without ever really knowing whether or not he beat his wife to death. Because of this, it can be very hard to watch. Yet, somehow, Peterson's decade-old trial manages to be extremely relevant to our American present, touching on issues like homophobia, racism, and misogyny, and ultimately painting a unique and intricate portrait of how the American criminal justice system works... or doesn't.