Take Your Charge
Smooth With This Sh*t
Guns Drawn, Shields Raised
In Between Opportunities
Lit On Your Birthday
Karma’s A Motherf*cker
When it comes to Netflix and compelling documentary series, the two tend to go hand to hand. The latest in the long line of slickly produced documentaries from the streaming giants is First and Last, an eye-opening look at the first and last 24 hours of prison life in one of America’s largest prisons – Gwinnet County Jail. With an episodic format structured around different inmates on their first and last days, First and Last feels unnecessarily long at times, falling into the Netflix trap of outstaying its welcome when perhaps a feature film format may have been more effective.
The 6 separate episodes follow a similar pattern – opening with a brief prologue and the title screen before introducing us to three or four key characters who will be featured in the forthcoming episode. Sporadically jumping between each inmate via a split-screen view, two inmates are shown preparing to leave the prison after their stay and two are in processing, hoping for bail or transfer to county lock-up.
The documentary follows these individuals as they share their thoughts and opinions on the prison system, their own crimes and just what the future may hold for them. The end of the episode then freezes on each character, giving us a brief glimpse of what happened to them before moving on. This set up remains consistent throughout the 6 episodes although the final episode, Karma’s A Motherf*cker, concludes the series by interviewing the various guards and getting their opinion of the prison system and the various convicted individuals.
Once again Netflix shows just why it’s one of the most aesthetically pleasing places for documentaries on any platform. Split screen cameras, slick on screen text and inmates freestyle rapping used as a brief musical interlude for establishing shots all combine to make First and Last unique in its colourful depiction of the early and last days of prison life. Those who have seen other prison documentaries before will certainly be left wanting with this offering though. The passive, fleeting view of these inmates makes it difficult to really give an emotional response and unlike other documentaries that have dived inside prisons or followed one or two inmates closely, First and Last feels much more distant than other documentaries of this type, instead focusing on including as many people as possible throughout the series rather than a more focused approach.
While First and Last does have its moments and offers a unique glimpse at the early and late days of prison life, it doesn’t offer enough to make it as appealing or impressive as other Netflix or prison documentaries. The slick visual design and tight editing does help to make this more aesthetically pleasing and there are some really colourful characters depicted. With so much content out there now, especially on this topic, First and Last is unlikely to be a documentary series remembered for years to come.