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A big crime in a small town involving a myriad of characters, inscrutable motives and far-reaching impacts has long been a compelling staple of the crime-drama genre. But for real-life abductee Jan Broberg, watching her own life unfold in the chilling new scripted series A Friend Of The Family is far more cathartic than it is confronting. And as a producer on the series, she encourages others to tune in, too. As she tells The Binge Guide, “The sound of an abused child is silence. I will never be silent again.”

They say fact is often stranger than fiction. It can also be far scarier. Certainly, TV makers have found plenty of true-crime stories (many of them set in the heart of suburbia) to both thrill us and turn us into armchair detectives.

Take Love & Death, the Binge drama released earlier this year about Candy Montgomery (Elizabeth Olsen), a popular Texan housewife who hacked a friend to death with an axe before showering off and returning to her daily routine as though nothing had happened. Or The Thing About Pam (2022), in which Pam Hupp (Renée Zellweger) murdered her cancer-stricken friend before framing the woman’s husband. Then there’s the Dirty John franchise, with 2018’s first season detailing the deadly manipulation of a wealthy single mother by the terrifying conman John Meehan (Eric Bana).

A Friend Of The Family is another such story. Based on the 1974 and 1976 abductions of Jan Broberg by a family friend, the series is set in an innocent world where children ride their bikes to the shops, disappear for hours to play games with friends and sing ABBA songs into their hairbrushes. Within this tight-knit Idaho community lurks Robert Berchtold (Jake Lacy), a neighbour to the trusting Broberg family. He seduces both husband Bob (Colin Hanks) and his wife Mary Ann (Anna Paquin) as an elaborate distraction from his real target: their daughter Jan (played in two stages by Hendrix Yancey and Mckenna Grace).

For the real Broberg – whom Berchtold manipulated into believing that aliens would harm her family unless she procreated with him – this dramatisation is part of a healing process. “I want these scenes to relate to some single mum who is dating somebody, and they go, ‘Wait a minute. He pays too much attention to my seven or eight-year-old daughter,’” she explains. “I want it to connect that strongly.”

Broberg, a producer on the series, says narratives like hers need to be told because “secrets and silence are the real killers. The sound of an abused child is silence. I will never be silent again.”

A Friend Of The Family’s creator Nick Antosca saw the potential for a compelling drama after viewing a 2017 documentary about Broberg called Abducted In Plain Sight.

“Ninety minutes in a documentary gives you time to tell a shocking story,” he says. “Nine episodes gave us the space to give context to that story, explore the people more deeply, and show how their lives unfolded over many years. I think it helps you better understand what the Brobergs went through and how they were manipulated.”

Having already successfully adapted another bizarre true-crime story into a drama series with 2019’s The Act, Antosca felt confident he could also do justice to the Broberg case. “I’m interested in dramatising a true story if it makes you ask two questions: how could this have happened and what did it feel like as it happened,” he says. “If those questions are hard to answer and fascinating to explore, and there’s a complex human relationship at the core of the story, then it seems like a story that will be meaningful to tell.”

Much like he did with The Act – in which Patricia Arquette gave an Emmy-winning performance as villain/victim Dee Dee Blanchard – Antosca walked the line between telling Broberg’s story in an engaging way and being mindful of the sensitive material by focusing on the emotional experiences of the people involved, rather than the details of the sexual abuse. “The story is about what people couldn’t see until it was too late. And,” he adds, “why they couldn’t see it.”

These interviews took place before the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes were called.

A Friend Of The Family premieres on Wednesday on 7plus.

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By Rahul

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