Burden of Proof Season 1 Review – A gripping true-crime mystery

Season 1

Episode Guide

Episode 1
Episode 2
Episode 3
Episode 4


Burden of Proof is the latest true-crime mystery series of HBO Max and it’s undoubtedly one that paints a portrait of a troubled family. This familial focus though is ironically both the show’s strong point and its biggest downfall.

On February 10th 1987, 15 year old Jennifer goes missing. She loved riding her scooter, she did well in school and had a good number of friends. She even had a boyfriend too.

Sometime in the middle of the night though, Jen vanished. All that’s left behind is a strange, jumbled note on her bed, claiming that Jennifer has run away with a “father figure” and the parents should go about their day like normal. Oh, and deposit some money in Jennifer’s bank account at the end of the week.

With the scene set, the focus of this doc rests squarely on Jennifer’s estranged brother’s shoulders, Stephen Pandos. His relationship with his parents, Ron and Margie, has been completely destroyed. In fact, Stephen is convinced they have something to do with Jen’s disappearance, with both failing polygraph tests and changing their stories constantly. To make matters worse, the police file for Jennifer seems to have gone missing.

A twist at the end of episode 2 though does change the dynamics of the case considerably, and without giving too much away, focuses across to other suspects too, that may have potentially been involved in what happened to Jennifer.

However, this shifting focus also takes away the suspicion on one of the more unusual personas in this documentary series – Margie. Now, I’m being careful not to spoil anything here but this woman’s stoic, strangely nonchalant behaviour to everything is more than a little suspicious. But of course, we’ll let you be the judge of that one!

Given this case is still unsolved to this day, Burden of Proof leaves plenty of question marks around what happened to Jennifer by the time the credits roll. However, the series also takes its sweet time to actually lay out what happened to Jen, through a series of re-enactments on that very night.

The production design here is actually really good, especially during these re-enactments, as new pieces of evidence come to light. In doing so, what we’ve seen previously changes slightly. In episode 1 for example, we see Ron as a concerned father… until he’s not. A scene shows him handing out flyers and then it’s erased completely to show a completely naked telephone pole. These sort of moments really typify some of the better aesthetic choices this docu-series makes.

By that same extension though, there’s a lot of focus on Stephen too. One may argue, perhaps a little too much. Half this documentary focuses on Stephen’s character and growth across the four episodes, with the final chapter even seeing the director commenting off-screen that they’ve followed Stephen for years and he’s changed a lot in that time.

While it’s not necessarily a bad approach, one does feel sometimes like the two siblings – 15 year old Jennifer and a much older and grieving Stephen – are wrestling for screen-time.

However, by that same token Stephen Pandos does a decent job of investigating his sister’s disappearance alongside experts in various fields. There’s a constant desire to make sure everything is told as fairly as possible, with police investigators, FBI profilers and even handwriting experts getting involved.

In the end though, we may never know what happened to Jennifer Pandos, but HBO Max’s latest docu-series definitely does a good job of shedding light on an unusual and absolutely enthralling mystery.

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  • Verdict - 8/10

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