First Impressions

Final Witness

Aired on: ABC

Reviewed by Melissa Minners

            When I saw previews of the new true crime series scheduled to air seven episodes this summer on ABC, I was skeptical.  I’ve seen a great many true crime series and they are all alike, offering a small back story of the victim(s) and the killer(s) and then focusing on the capture and conviction of said killer(s).  However, something about the catchphrase of the show - “What if the dead could speak?” - caught my eye.  I wondered how the powers that be could tell the story from the victim’s point of view.  To my knowledge, except for those made for TV movies, this had never been done before.  So, I decided to check out Final Witness when it aired at 10pm EST on Wednesday, June 27, 2012.

            The premiere episode of Final Witness, The Caffey Family is about the 2008 murder of a small-town family in Texas.  The story is narrated by Penny Caffey, the deceased wife of Terry Caffey, sole survivor of the deadly attack on March 1, 2008.  She gives us some background on the family, the town they live in and their daughter’s new boyfriend Charlie.  Her discussion of events is added on to by Terry Caffey, the neighbor to whom Terry came for help, the law enforcement official assigned to the murder case and the prosecutor.

            According to Penny, the Caffey family was very tight knit.  Things were happy in their family until their daughter, Erin, a naďve teenager whose singing voice was a focal point at church events, fell hard for the town’s local bad boy.  Though they got off to a rough start, the family seemed to accept Charlie’s presence in their daughter’s life.  After all, he treated their daughter very well.  However, when Erin began withdrawing from her family and breaking house rules, the Caffeys laid down rules for Erin and Charlie.  When those rules were broken, the Caffeys forbid Erin from dating Charlie.

            That one action set off a chain of events that would find Penny and her sons Bubba and Tyler dead, their home burnt down and Terry fighting for his life in the hospital.  Terry knew who his killer was and reported what he knew to the police, but he never suspected who else could be involved in the murder plot.

            I was quite prepared to dislike Final Witness and had all but discounted it as another one of those documentary true crime shows before I had even watched one episode.  After watching The Caffey Family, I found I had changed my mind.  This was still another true crime episode complete with enactments of the crime, but there was a twist - the voice of the victim. 

            Sure, the show didn’t really present the words of the victim - after all, how credible would it be if they told you that this victim had actually spoken to them post-mortem?  But the powers that be try to tell the story from the victim’s point of view by taking what knowledge they have of the victim - their actions, style of speaking, convictions, etc. - and use them to create a dialogue of how they believe the victim would have told their story.  Although a tad gimmicky, I still found it to be a bit interesting.

            I think Final Witness offers a unique perspective missing from most true crime series out there.  That’s why I wouldn’t mind checking out another episode of this midsummer replacement television.  Face it, with all the reality television and copycat programming out there during the summer, why wouldn’t I want to watch something unique and compelling?

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