Cryptids and Murder · Vargas and Holes · Depp and Biggie
Plus a Belgian case, a black-widow podcast, and tons of trailers
A happy St. Pat’s to all, which I’ll begin with an update! Eve’s post from yesterday initially didn’t go out to everyone, and you won’t want to miss it, so if you didn’t get that email or check the site, you can find it right here. — SDB
SXSW is underway, and that means beaucoup trailers coming out of “virtual” Austin, including one for the Duplasses’ Hulu three-parter Sasquatch. Directed by Joshua Rofé (Lorena), Sasquatch digs into “rumors of a bizarre twenty-five year old triple homicide said to be the work of a mythical creature.” I’m more tolerant than some of cryptid conspiracies — I’m from New Jersey, and my husband uses History Channel/Bigfoot programming the way other people use white-noise machines — but I have to assume this triple murder was the work of standard-issue crappy people, not Sasquatches.
On the other hand, Jon Billman’s The Cold Vanish showed that it’s possible to make room for more outlandish outdoorsy theories in a way that’s compassionate, but not gullible. We’ll see where Sasquatch ends up starting April 20, when the series drops; in the meantime, here’s a trailer. — SDB
Anyone check out the rebooted America’s Most Wanted on Monday night? Given my vocational focus on true crime, it’s kind of a miracle that I’d only ever been exposed to, like, 32 minutes total of the original with John Walsh — and only by accident. I never sought it out; something about it made me uncomfortable. Part of me admired Walsh’s (highly successful) attempt to turn the horrific death of his son Adam into a net good for safety and justice, but another part of me didn’t care for the whiff of vigilantism, which we weren’t “allowed” to interrogate as such because it existed as a function of grief — or the copaganda brand of “justice” the show traded in that, much like COPS, would leverage and reinforce institutional bias just by existing. The new version is eager for viewers to know about the advances in technology it’s using — 3D avatars; weaponized social media (they…don’t phrase it that way, of course) — but: see above re the dangers of crowd-sourcing investigations and not questioning which “crowds” that privileges. (Evidently the premiere featured the Lady Gaga dog-napping case; maybe the show is trying to ease viewers into things?)
All that by way of saying I’m not inclined to sample the new version, although the personnel are marginally promising; host Elizabeth Vargas has done good work in the sector, and Paul Holes is also part of AMW as an investigator. I think Vargas and Holes mean well, and do their best to investigate and present cases ethically. But Holes did come to prominence via forensic-genealogy work on the Golden State Killer case that, while effective there and elsewhere, does raise serious questions about privacy and overfunded policing that I doubt anyone involved in the new AMW wants to spend much time on. — SDB
Under Suspicion: Covering The Wesphael Case dropped on Netflix today — somewhat overshadowed by the Operation Varsity Blues debut, as Wesphael is 1) a lesser-known case and 2) subtitled, which is a trickier sell. You can watch a teaser here; the series documents the trial of Bernard Wesphael, a Belgian politician accused of his wife’s 2013 murder. Googling for background on the case will spoil you as to its outcome, as it did me, but I may check the series out this weekend — and then revisit the idea of trying to find Wesphael’s 2016 memoir, Assassin, in an English translation. — SDB
Another docuseries premiering at SXSW, and another Joe Berlinger joint: Confronting A Serial Killer. You can watch that trailer here; this one made its world premiere at SXSW yesterday, and is set to hit Starz — an underrated player in non-fiction programming — on April 18. A summary from the press materials:
The five-episode series tells the timely story of the unprecedented relationship between acclaimed New York Times best-selling author and memoirist Jillian Lauren (‘Some Girls: My Life in a Harem’) and the most prolific serial killer in American history, Samuel Little, and her race against time to identify his victims before it’s too late (Little recently died in prison at the age of 80, after having avoided justice for his crimes for decades). Lauren uncovers Little’s darkest secrets and aids law enforcement in solving a multitude of cold case murders while struggling to reconcile her own history of addiction and abuse with her present-day mission to return the identities of previously nameless bodies and forgotten women. As she slips deeper into his sordid world, Jillian realizes that she may become, psychologically, Little’s last victim.
Earlier this year, Eve linked to a WaPo series on Little, and how his choice of victims played a large part in the aforementioned avoidance of justice. This iteration of the story sounds like a filmed crimoir, more or less, including as it does Jillian Lauren’s journey into the heart of Little’s darkness; this can be an extremely effective narrative angle (Murder On Middle Beach), but given a demonstrated recent willingness to 1) take some clichéd shortcuts and 2) accept “expertise” at face value in Cecil Hotel, I wonder if Joe Berlinger is exactly the right fit for the material. No doubt I’ll end up covering it for Primetimer, so I’ll report back! — SDB
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But wait, there’s EVEN MORE!
Wondery podcast MANslaughter, on Suzanne Stordock’s “talent” in getting away with murder, dropped its first two episodes today; Wondery+ peeps can binge the entire podcast now.
Us Kids, a Greenwich Entertainment doc on the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting survivors “launching a global youth movement against gun violence,” premieres in theaters and PVOD on May 14. Here’s that trailer.
If you can still tolerate Johnny Depp, he’s in Biggie-investigation docudrama City Of Lies with Forest Whitaker starting Friday. An adaptation of LAbyrinth, the “crime-thriller” basically covers the same ground as Unsolved, with Depp in the Jimmi Simpson role, so maybe just watch that instead? — SDB
Thursday on Best Evidence: The Doodler podcast, at last.