True crime series, whether scripted or unscripted, have become very popular among TV fans. They want to know the who, what, when, and where of infamous and lesser-known crimes. Over the last few years, true crime TV series have become very common, with Netflix alone having plenty of unbelievable true crime series. That’s why it’s no surprise that Peacock expanded its true-crime programming with A Friend of the Family.
However, it is surprising that this is a really compelling TV show. The series gives a fictionalized account of the Jan Broberg kidnapping story, which Netflix first brought attention to with the documentary, Abducted in Plain Sight. It’s one of the best Netflix true crime documentaries and a shocking story that seems too unbelievable to be true.
While watching the series, I noticed some things it does creatively and structurally that make it a really intriguing true crime drama. I’ve already seen the first six episodes and I want to discuss (spoiler-free) what A Friend of the Family does right to create a riveting, heartbreaking, and terrifying true crime TV show.
A Friend Of The Family Is Interesting Without Sensationalizing The Crime
Even though true crime dramas are based on real events, being an entertaining TV show is still the top priority. This means that sometimes these shows lean heavily into the entertainment part and less into the factual elements of the story, which sometimes means glorifying the violent aspects or completely ignoring the victims and making the main focus the crimes or the person who committed them. These shows also may play fast and loose with the facts to make sure things are paced better for television.
A Friend of the Family is a very personal story to Jan Broberg and her family, so it relies less on big dramatic TV moments and takes a more minimalistic approach to the story.
Some of the best true crime shows go big and bold with the performances, details, and imagery, but this keeps things a little more subtle. It has great performances, makes interesting narrative choices, and gives plenty of details without glorifying the criminal or crimes and without coming off as if its exploiting the victims.
It Shows Sympathy For The Victims
Jan Broberg is a child when all this happens, so of course, the TV series is sympathetic towards her, but it goes further and offers some sympathy for her parents. If you’ve already watched Abducted in Plain Sight or read the book it's based on, or even just read many articles on the subject, then you know that Jan’s parents do some things that make them seem like unfit parents.
A Friend of the Family shows all the ways they didn’t protect or help Jan enough, but also shows that they were flawed humans who were easily manipulated by a sociopath. It helps that Colin Hanks and Anna Paquin give layered performances as Bob and Mary Ann.
These performances make it easier to see how they’re not bad people, but were naïve, timid, and repressed at the time of the events. It also shows their evolution throughout the series as they go from people viewers may harshly judge to sympathetic characters.
It Shows No Sympathy For A Friend Of The Family’s Villain
From the moment the drama introduces Bob Berchtold, viewers feel uncomfortable. He clearly has ulterior motives and everything he says and does is calculated to manipulate the entire Broberg family. At no point does he become a charming bad guy, like some of the best Marvel villains, but remains despicable all throughout the series.
He’s scary, dangerous, and repulsive to viewers, but you can still see how he could have tricked this family for all of these years. Jake Lacy deserves to join the conversation for the 2023 Emmy nominees because he gives such an understated, terrifying performance. He isn’t one of the actors who seem to always play villains, so this makes his work here even more fascinating and commendable.
It Expands On The Original Documentary
Abducted in Plain Sight tells a captivating story in 90 minutes. However, A Friend of the Family’s nine episodes allows the story to go into more details. This gives viewers a different perspective of the events, unknown details, and a deeper understanding of the family. It also shows the damage Bob causes to them beyond just the physical and sexual abuse to Jan.
As a scripted true crime series, we’ll never get the entire truth, but we can assume that much of it is based on things that really happened. Therefore, the show offers at least some more insight into events that were previously revealed in the documentary.
Jan Broberg And Her Family's Involvement In The Making Of The Series
We can also assume that A Friend of the Family may be more accurate than many true crime dramas because Jan Broberg was involved in its making. She’s a producer on the true crime series, along with her mother, Mary Ann.
In a People magazine interview, Broberg talked about how much more deeply the series goes into the events than previous versions of her story. She also talked about hoping that the TV show can help prevent things like this from happening to other people and to make victims feel less alone.
Letting her be so involved in the production of has allowed the show to have a lot nuance than some of the other true crime shows that don’t get the victims' perspectives.
A Friend Of The Family Wants Viewers To Feel Uncomfortable Watching It
One of the things A Friend of the Family does really well is implying what happened without pushing the envelope to make it any clearer. However, even without making things explicit, the show gives viewers enough to understand and imagine the horrors Jan endured.
Nothing about it feels comfortable. Viewers cannot passively watch this show because the minute it starts, they feel suffocated by the weight of everything happening and to come. You also feel frustrated by the Broberg family. Then you feel real pain for Jan, fear for her, and feel sad knowing how deep the manipulation goes. You also hate Bob and just feel disgusted every time he comes on the screen.
This is a show that makes you feel so many emotions over the span of it. And, it's a good thing, because true crime series shouldn’t make viewers feel comfortable or relaxed. They should make them upset for many reasons, including the simple fact that this happened to someone or many people, and might continue to happen.
A Friend of the Family is a powerful true-crime TV show that crushes your soul, but that’s the point. It was one of the upcoming true crime TV shows that I was most looking forward to watching, and it exceeded expectations.
Stream the first four episodes of A Friend of the Family on Peacock now. The remaining five will be released every Thursday until Nov 10.
Your Daily Blend of Entertainment News
Spent most of my life in various parts of Illinois, including attending college in Evanston. I have been a life long lover of pop culture, especially television, turned that passion into writing about all things entertainment related. When I'm not writing about pop culture, I can be found channeling Gordon Ramsay by kicking people out the kitchen.