You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

TV Review: ‘The System With Joe Berlinger’

With: Joe Berlinger

Producer-director Joe Berlinger is not exactly a natural as a TV personality. Yet his show for Al Jazeera America, “The System With Joe Berlinger,” is a natural for television — a tough, spare look at a criminal-justice system filled with miscarriages and injustice, despite all those reassuring procedurals Americans gobble up. Like other programs devoted to the topic (see Alex Gibney’s “Death Row Stories” for CNN), the docu series makes a powerful case against the death penalty, if only because of the punishment’s irrevocable nature in the face of a system that, clearly, is subject to the vagaries of human weakness and manipulation.

Focusing on distinct cases in each hour but also the broader issues, “The System” deals with topics like “Flawed Forensics” and “False Confessions.” Several of the stories introduce people who spent decades in jail because of faulty prosecutions and police work, as well as the reluctance of prosecutors and judges to reopen past convictions, even in the face of new evidence.

To their credit, Berlinger and company approach this troubling material in an even-handed, almost low-key manner. He also reaches out to victims’ families, putting a face on survivors who have already suffered, and are usually convinced the police must have gotten the right person, sounding mystified that anyone would question the outcome.

Those voices are balanced, however, by the devastated relatives of the wrongly convicted and imprisoned, as well as accounts of people who have spent most of their adult lives imprisoned for acts they didn’t commit. (One case, for example, involves the wrongful conviction of then-teenage Jeffrey Deskovic, and sheds an unflattering light on former district attorney turned TV judge Jeanine Pirro, who parlayed her tough-as-nails image into a TV career.)

While still a minor blip on the TV spectrum, with programs like “The System” Al Jazeera moves past the straight-news niche the venture has championed to something with a bit more entertainment value. Granted, that’s a hit-miss proposition — the channel’s immigration-themed “Borderland” was far less compelling — but the strategy echoes CNN’s approach in using regularly scheduled series as a hoped-for hedge against the vagaries of the news cycle.

Whether or not that works from a business perspective is open to conjecture, but as advocacy TV, “The System” works.

TV Review: 'The System With Joe Berlinger'

(Documentary series; Al Jazeera America, Sun. May 18, 9 p.m.)


Produced by RadicalMedia.


Senior executive producer, Kathy Davidov; executive producers, Joe Berlinger, Sidney Beaumont, Jon Kamen, Justin Wilkes; co-executive producer, Mike Sheridan; producers, Matt Durning, Kevin Huffman, Marcella Steingart; directors, Berlinger, Steingart, Huffman. 60 MIN.

Cast: With: Joe Berlinger

More TV

  • 'What/If' Review: Renée Zellweger Stars in

    TV Review: Renée Zellweger in 'What/If' on Netflix

    “What/If,” Netflix’s new anthology series, tells you what it is from its first moments, as Renée Zellweger delivers an Ayn Rand-ian screed about rejecting social mores. Zellweger builds to a snarl as she decries “lesser people’s moral agendas,” all while puttering through a lavish apartment, pausing to trim a bonsai tree. She’s speaking to no [...]

  • Fox News Logo

    Jeff Collins Will Oversee Fox News Ad Sales

    Fox Corporation named Jeff Collins, a former digital-advertising executive, to oversee advertising sales for all of its Fox News media outlets, putting a new face behind the effort at a time when the company is making different outreach to Madison Avenue.  Collins hails from Viant Technology, a digital-advertising and publishing concern that was acquired by [...]

  • La Casa de Papel Netflix

    Madrid Region Booms as an International Production Hub

    Madrid is booming as never before in its 125-year film history; arguably, no other European site is currently transforming so quickly into a global production hub. A 20-minute drive north of the Spanish capital, a large white-concrete hanger has been built beside the Madrid-Burgos motorway, at the entrance to Tres Cantos, a well-heeled satellite village and industrial [...]

  • Game of Thrones: Plastic Water Bottle

    'Game of Thrones': Plastic Water Bottle Spotted in Series Finale

    Two weeks after a rogue coffee cup made its way into an episode of “Game of Thrones,” another modern-day refreshment popped up in Westeros, this time in the form of a plastic water bottle. During one of the most important scenes in Sunday’s farewell episode, in which “The Iron Throne” was decided,  a water bottle [...]

  • Westworld Season 3 Trailer

    'Westworld' Season 3 Trailer Focuses on New Cast Member Aaron Paul

    Ahead of the final episode of “Game of Thrones,” HBO released the first trailer for the new season of another flagship show: “Westworld.” The first look at the third season of the sci-fi show puts the focus on new series regular Aaron Paul, best known for his run on “Breaking Bad.” The trailer doesn’t reveal [...]

  • AMERICAN IDOL - "218 (Season Finale)"

    Adam Lambert Does Double Performing Duty on 'Idol' as New Winner Is Crowned

    A new “American Idol” winner was crowned Sunday night, but not before Adam Lambert returned to the stage for the season finale for a pair of performances that included his new single and a duet with eliminated contestant Dimitrius Graham Sunday. The show concluded with Louisiana teen Laine Hardy showered in confetti as he was [...]

  • Beyonce Emilia Clarke

    Emilia Clarke Worried Beyonce Would Hate Daenerys After 'Game of Thrones'' Final Season

    After eight seasons as the Mother of Dragons, “Game of Thrones” star Emilia Clarke has a lot of celebrity fans. But the most impressive? Probably Queen Bey. In a New Yorker interview posted after Sunday night’s series finale, Clarke revealed that she met Beyonce at an Oscars after-party hosted by the musician and her husband, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content