NEW YORK (CNS) -- Though overlong and uneven, "The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez" is, nonetheless, a searing indictment of our collective failure to protect our most vulnerable children.

The docuseries -- which has already met with considerable popularity, despite its somber theme -- is cur-rently streaming on Netflix in six one-hour episodes.

Veteran documentarian Lowell Bergman ("60 Minutes," "Frontline") is one of the program's executive producers. The other, Brian Knappenberger, directed the film.

The series opens with a dramatic 911 call concerning 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez (Johnny Jett Merca-do). Vivid reenactments follow, portraying the hectic but ultimately futile efforts of the trauma workers at Antelope Valley Hospital in Los Angeles County to save their young patient.

A depressed skull fracture was probably the most serious of the multiple injuries the boy suffered on "every part of his body," as nurse Christine Estes recalls. Similarly, Dr. James Ribe, who conducted Ga-briel's autopsy, remembers that it took two days to document all his wounds.

Well acquainted with the indicators of child abuse, hospital staff were properly dubious when Gabriel's mother, Pearl, said that he sustained his numerous injuries by slipping in the bathtub. The reality was far more gruesome.

After assuming guardianship of her son six months prior to his death, Pearl and her live-in boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, engaged in what Assistant District Attorney Scott Yang describes as a "systematic progres-sion of torture." The couple kept Gabriel handcuffed in a cupboard for long stretches, fed him cat litter, shot him with a BB gun and extinguished cigarettes on him.

Aguirre, here portrayed by William Guirola, has been sentenced to death and Gabriel's mother to life in prison in the case. But Jackie Lacey, the first woman and African American to serve as Los Angeles. County's district attorney, didn't let the matter rest there.

She determined that four social workers with the local department of child and family services also bore some culpability for missing numerous warning signs about Gabriel's peril. So she charged them with child endangerment resulting in death and falsification of public records.

"The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez" also implicates the deputy sheriffs who were called to the Fernandez home multiple times. Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Hatami, himself a survivor of child abuse, memorably recalls the frustration he experienced when he had to file a court motion to obtain their internal report on the case.

A whistleblower from child and family services speaks for the filmmakers when he says, "So many could have intervened, but chose not to. Why not?"

Given its grim subject matter, the documentary is obviously suitable for adult viewers only. All the more so since it includes occasional strong language and a cohabiting same-sex couple.

Propelled by John Dragonetti's insistent musical score and by its immersive reenactments, "The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez" will grab audience attention immediately. But the show ultimately fails to sustain this initial momentum.

Mystifyingly, for instance, the narrative digresses to review the algorithm that Allegheny County, Penn-sylvania, has developed to detect child abuse more quickly. The documentary also loses track of Pearl's story and of the social workers' plight for long stretches.

When the program focuses on Aguirre's fate, by contrast, it raises fundamental moral questions about capital punishment. Is he an irredeemable monster or something more? Can mercy play any role in such an extreme situation?

These tough questions will challenge viewers, and perhaps engender debate. What isn't open to ques-tion is the service the show's creators perform by shinning a spotlight on Gabriel's suffering and the ne-glect that led to his tragic death.

Its artistic flaws notwithstanding, "The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez" will prove a valuable piece of filmmaking if it motivates people to prevent such horrors in the future.