The First 48 Presents Homicide Squad Atlanta Is True Crime's Best Longform (2024)

True crime miniseries have become popular as creatives look for the next sensational story. A&E jumped into the fray with 2019's The First 48 Presents Homicide Squad Atlanta. The six-episode limited series took The First 48's fan-favorite Atlanta Homicide unit and gave them the spotlight by following one murder investigation over more than a year. No other true crime miniseries has accomplished as much, which is why it's surprising that A&E has never used the format again.

Homicide Squad Atlanta focused on the homicide of Bridget Shiel concurrently with the quasi-coming of age of Andre Lowe, the unit's newest member. The Shiel case was Lowe's first as primary and the miniseries documented both the investigation and the inner workings of the homicide unit in a way not even The First 48 had previously been able to. Along the way, it also found other meaningful stories to tell. Rather than latching on to another high-profile crime and pulling it apart, Homicide Squad Atlanta found a story that organically deserved the miniseries treatment and captured that unique period in Atlanta Homicide.

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The First 48 Presents Homicide Squad Atlanta Had a Clear Purpose

Most true crime miniseries take one story and stretch it over multiple episodes, resulting in narrative detours like overly long interviews or filler material that slows down the whole proceeding. The First 48 Presents Homicide Squad Atlanta primarily followed one murder, but it made sense to present that case as a miniseries because it spanned more than a year. One needs only to look at the regular First 48 cut to see how much was lost reducing Bridget Shiel's story into one episode. Even a two-hour The First 48 episode lacked the full depth of the investigation and its impact in the community -- something that the main series has always emphasized.

Aside from identifying Bridget's killer, Homicide Squad Atlanta had a clear internal narrative with rookie Andre Lowe and his journey with the mentorship of senior detectives, most notably David Quinn. Quinn remains a First 48 fan-favorite because of his honest love for solving crimes and his big personality, but the miniseries showed a more contemplative side to him. He was the veteran to Lowe's wide-eyed new arrival, telling him the hard truths but also guiding him down the right path. There was a personal story between Lowe and Quinn that could not have been told without the miniseries format.

The miniseries had the breathing room to lean into those human stories. It spent time with Bridget's family to show their part in the process, beyond snippets of their grief. And it maintained the First 48 approach of interviewing the officers, but shifted the idea; rather than relying on The First 48 narrator Dion Graham, it made the detectives the narrators, using their insights and reactions to move the episodes along. Homicide Squad Atlanta took the elements that are so memorable about The First 48 and let them play out over an extended period of time.

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The First 48 Presents Homicide Squad Atlanta Expanded Into New Stories

The First 48 Presents Homicide Squad Atlanta Is True Crime's Best Longform (1)

The smartest aspect of The First 48 Presents Homicide Squad Atlanta was that it didn't just focus on the Bridget Shiel murder. While that case received the bulk of the screen time, each episode told a mostly self-contained story about another case happening in the unit. Not only was that an accurate reflection of life in Atlanta Homicide, but it allowed the series to spotlight detectives and detective pairings that weren't seen enough in the main show. Audiences received a fuller picture of the team and their relationships because there was extra time to devote to more stories.

The standout episode was Episode 3, "Secrets & Lies," an exceptionally strong outing for Detective Kevin Leonpacher. What seemed like a simple parking lot murder devolved into an unwieldy mess, and Leonpacher's forthrightness and social IQ made him the right person to cut through the nonsense. Audiences got to see his lighter side with a few well-placed jokes but more importantly, saw how well he could read people and not let them read him. Leonpacher's work in that episode illustrated how important the conversational element is to crime-solving and how he's an expert at that craft. "Secrets & Lies" was a welcome look further into Leonpacher's process and personality, while also being a spot of breathing room amidst Bridget's increasingly difficult case.

Homicide veteran Brett Zimbrick also had some standout moments. He brought his deadpan wit alongside Leonpacher in "Secrets & Lies" and then was spotlighted in Episode 4, "Hot Sun, Cold Blood," when he got a DNA hit on a cold case. Cold cases usually aren't part of The First 48 and Zimbrick had typically been in the background of Atlanta episodes, but Homicide Squad Atlanta put him front and center while showing the experience of a cold case homicide. Plus, Zimbrick took Quinn with him to San Francisco, which was just plain fun. Those two could host a travel show. But from spotlighting underrated detectives to telling different stories about those detectives, The First 48 Presents Homicide Squad Atlanta was everything a true crime miniseries is supposed to be.

The First 48 Presents Homicide Squad Atlanta re-airs on A&E occasionally and streams on Hulu, Prime Video and Pluto TV.

The First 48 Presents Homicide Squad Atlanta Is True Crime's Best Longform (2024)

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