Netflix has become the new home of the true crime documentary series, the tightly knotted, edge of your seat sort of documentary that has as many cliffhangers as it does chapters (“Making a Murderer” and “Wild Wild Country” most recently). Which is what makes the streaming service’s newest edition, “Bobby Kennedy For President” such an anomaly. Certainly, there is plenty of crime, conspiracy, and murder in the life of the lesser-known Kennedy, but the series, as directed by Dawn Porter (“Trapped,” “Spies of Mississippi”) is more of a PBS docuseries than anything else. At least until the fourth chapter when Porter dives headfirst into the unseemly underbelly of RFK’s assassination and the plots that may have been behind it.
Porter’s series starts off much like Bobby Kennedy’s political career: unmoored and focused on someone else’s fame. The four-part series’ first chapter has the unfortunate responsibility to set the stage and introduce the boyishly good-looking politician in his ascendant years, as he grabbed onto the coattails of his elder brother, Jack, who rose to the highest office in the land. It’s hard to recap just how much is packed into the first chapter, which leaves the hour feeling like little more than exposition to set the stage for the real meat of the story: Bobby’s transformation, after his brother’s death, into the face of the progressive left, a senator from New York, and eventually the Democratic frontrunner in the 1968 presidential primary. What seems most important to Porter to establish early on in the first chapter, is that Bobby wasn’t a saint. He was a ruthless campaign manager for his brother and a hardliner Attorney General who was more interested in getting results than doing things by the books. His shrewdness, according to “Bobby Kennedy For President,” is integral to understand just how large his metamorphosis was into the radical humanitarian he became.