The Staircase First Look: The Infuriating True Crime Story Becomes An HBO Max Series

Remember that one summer when we all got obsessed with the bizarre, mostly-a-decade-old true crime docuseries "The Staircase"? Remember how the stranger-than-fiction story kept evolving even after it aired, with the emergence of truly unbelievable stuff like The Owl Theory and the director's revelation that a series editor was allegedly romantically involved with the subject? Well, get ready to experience that endlessly surreal feeling all over again, because a dramatic adaptation of "The Staircase," directed by Antonio Campos and Leigh Janiak, is headed to HBO Max.

In the official first look at "The Staircase," we see Colin Firth embodying the role of Michael Peterson, the author who was charged with murder in the 2001 death of his wife, Kathleen. Toni Collette plays Kathleen, whose real-life counterpart died at the bottom of the stairs in what was either a gruesome fall or a bludgeoning, depending on who you believe. The original documentary series is noted for dividing audiences on the issue of Peterson's guilt, and hones in on specific details like Peterson's sex life, a seemingly similar death in his past, and the prosecution's proposed murder weapon — a now-notorious blow poke.

An unorthodox family dinner

Based on the image featuring a very much alive Kathleen, it looks like the HBO Max fictionalization of "The Staircase" will give the story we think we know even more context. The image shows the couple in an embrace — the kind where one person's behind the other with their arms wrapped around, so you can't tell if Kathleen is feeling loved or suffocated. They're also next to a mostly-undecorated Christmas tree, which fits in with the real story's December tragedy.

In a second picture, the Peterson family shares a meal around a table, and everyone seems to have a tight smile on their face. The show's extended cast includes Michael Stuhlbarg, Juliette Binoche, Dane DeHaan, Rosemarie DeWitt, Parker Posey, and more, though only DeHaan can be seen among the ensemble here. This scene likely takes place after the murder, as the docuseries featured several widely discussed sequences of the Peterson family spending time together during the course of the murder trial.

It'll be interesting to see how a dramatic series will capture all the strange nuances of this story. The documentary's verisimilitude made it possible for us to witness the family's spontaneous moments of dark humor and frank discussion, but how will that fine line between tragedy and absurdity translate into a fictionalized show? I'm also curious about how meta the story will get, because in reality, there were camera crews there for scenes like the family dinner. The docuseries was twisty and perplexing, but it was also more than capable of handling the case's points of ambiguity. We'll find out whether HBO Max's version of "The Staircase" can do the same when the show debuts later this year.