Particularly in the streaming era, the true-crime model has expanded into a thriving avenue for media content. Providing shocking, stranger-than-fiction stories that practically demand you binge through them, it’s easy to see why crime can pay for these eager-for-programming services. While Hulu‘s docuseries Captive Audience will fit comfortably into this expanding, unsettling subgenre of modern entertainment, the show’s new trailer also promises an intriguing meta-commentary on the nature of true-crime media, and how the public’s relationship to the cameras and the uncovering of horrible real crimes can later inspire terrible truths to follow. Produced by Joe and Anthony Russo and directed by Jessica Dimmock (The Pearl), Captive Audience should have no trouble finding a rabid audience of its own, but it might also make viewers question the very nature of the true-crime business — especially in today’s ever-attentive age.
As noted by the upcoming series’ synopsis, Captive Audience will explore “how a story gets told, and how the media’s magnifying glass impacts the characters caught in the narrative.” First following Steven Stayner in 1972, when the seven-year-old boy went to school and never came home, hope seems lost, as his mother struggles to keep the media’s attention and to keep her family together. But seven years later, something miraculous happens: Steven returns. And from that point forward, the media can’t get enough of this incredible true story.
As Steven struggles to adapt to life back at home, the Stayner family must contend with the blaring eye of the media constantly surveying everything and anything they do. Tensions heighten as Steven’s kidnapper goes on trial, revealing painful truths to the public and resulting in this young man’s downward spiral. As Steven gets his life together, complete with a family of his own and a hit TV movie documenting his life story, the Stayners must endure another tragedy, thus resulting in another media whirlwind on their front lawns. But this time around, their fame leads to infamy.
Featuring interviews from Steven’s family, including his daughter, Ashley, as well as the news figures and court officials who populated this larger-than-life tale, Captive Audience paints an elaborate and certainly quite disturbing recounting of one of the media’s most horrifying real-life family sagas, all played out in real-time. Even before true-crime stories were commonplace for media fixation, it’s apparent that Americans have always craved stories that reveal shocking truths that happen just outside our doors. It’s human nature, really.
But it also provides Dimmock with a compelling lens through which she’ll intrigue modern viewers in the way that common folks were enraptured by this story back in the day, while also showing us the painful hardships and the devastating truths behind a family torn apart and/or driven mad by the intense focus of the bright spotlight. Depending on how this series shapes up, it might prove to be one of the most revealing additions to this expanding genre — and in more ways than one, ultimately.
Captive Audience: A Real American Horror Story premieres on Hulu on April 21st. Check out the trailer below.