How long can a series that uses file footage and drone shots of a city less than a mile long last? The docu series “No One Saw a Thing” suggests maybe six installments is too long.
Airing on SundanceTV at 10 p.m. Thursdays, the documentary series starts with the infamous murder Ken Rex McElroy and traces its bloody roots to show how violence impacted the town of about 270 people.
Directed by Avi Belkin (“Mike Wallace is Here”) and co-produced by Jason Blum (“Get Out,” “Sharp Objects”), “No One Saw a Thing” doesn’t act as a whodunit, looking for the person or people who shot the notorious bully McElroy outside of a bar in the afternoon. In talking with the late Britt Small and other long-time residents, it’s apparent the townspeople know and they’re not going to tell.
Instead, the doc series follows Skidmore’s history leading up to McElroy’s murder in 1981, speaking to both his siblings and detractors, and the aftermath, indirectly tying in tragedies like the mysterious disappearance of Branson Perry and the murder of Bobbie Jo Stinnett.
Using surprisingly clear file footage from national broadcasters like Morley Safer, we see the unwanted national attention that was brought to the town, while locals and News-Press NOW’s Steve Booher narrate the production with their personal takes on incident. Sometimes, it’s emotional and effective. Other times, it feels repetitive, like at least a dozen voiceovers of people saying how Skidmore is holding back secrets, how everyone knows everyone, the definition of a vigilante and descriptions of how big of a bully McElroy was.
Its first three episodes focus almost solely on McElroy, bringing in law enforcement and the public defender to outline McElroy’s history and their role in everything leading up to the murder. By episode 3, it feels tiresome. There’s only so many elegant drone shots of the small town and recreated shots of the murder you can take before you feel the series being stretched too far.
It gets a renewed sense of interest after that, when it focuses on the flight of people from the town to other places in episode 4, titled “Cycle of Violence,” and the subsequent tragedies that followed. Its focus tightens up with the added narratives that are often riveting and depressing.
“No One Saw a Thing” is a unique look at one-of-a-kind small town plagued with tragedies. It comes off as empathetic and informative, rather than sleazy and forced. While it could be cut down an episode or two, it’s an important watch to understand the community politics and code of silence that surrounds small town America.
— Andrew Gaug | St. Joe Live