Errol Morris/Jeffrey MacDonald · Penitentiary COVID · Scotty Bowers

“Happy” August, everyone! We’ve got some premiere dates, and we’ve got some longreads catch-ups, so let’s get into it.

FX’s A Wilderness Of Error finally gets a release date. Based on Errol Morris’s book of the same name about the case of Jeffrey MacDonald, the five-parter premieres on September 25 with the first three episodes, then wraps the following week with the last two. If you miss them on FX, you’ll find them on Hulu the next day.

I disliked the book, partly because I found its arguments specious, but also partly because it read like Morris had settled for it when he couldn’t get a doc funded — so I’m very interested to see if the series fulfills the book’s promise in that regard, even if I don’t agree with much of Morris’s evidentiary cherry-picking. (Funny how Joe McGinniss’s chief antagonists accuse him of doing the same with secondary facts in MacDonald’s case, but will be rah-ther selective about the evidence they choose to confront, Janet Malcolm.)

Here’s the official trailer:

“What happens when a narrative takes the place of reality?” Well, President Trump, for one. Every single court case that has availed itself of an opening argument, for another. …Great, I’m already in a mood about this! — SDB

Let’s see if I can be a bit more modulated about HBO’s The Vow. In the same Variety piece linked above, Eli Countryman also notes the premiere date for The Vow, which “documents events within NXIVM, an organization rife with charges against it, including sex trafficking.” The series intends to give “a voice to those behind the news coverage” — and I must confess that this is one story I really don’t know much about, so I can come to the series without preconceived (read: “defensive”) notions about “the narrative. THAT trailer is here. — SDB

Last day to choose an August book-review topic for me! I think we probably have a winner, but just in case you want me to read the Renner (or…are Renner, hee), the poll’s open another day… — SDB

Vote, quick quick!

“Prison terms become death sentences.” That’s the subhed of Rachel Aviv’s New Yorker piece (the on-point illustration above is by Jamiel Law) on the disproportionate punishment meted out by COVID-19 at Cummins Unit, an Arkansas penitentiary. Prisoners at Cummins were already used, functionally, as slave labor — a couple of grafs at the end of the story make the similarities explicit — and starting in March, many of the men on work details were facing a predictably horrible choice: pile into a trailer, close together, and go to work…or face two weeks in The Hole. (AR governor Asa Hutchinson has dismissed the piece as “not factual.”)

Aviv’s article is well done, the kind of longform concretizing of an issue or case New Yorker joints specialize in, but for reasons unconnected to the writing or the length, it took me ages to get through…because I have read, it feels like, dozens of pieces like it in the last few months, and even in an investigation that follows individuals and provides texture, the sheer number of prisoners in this situation nationwide, the apathy and/or resistance towards humane reform…it triggers a shutdown mentally, a “something must be done!/nothing can be done” I/O error.

And it happens, when you consume widely in this genre. Wrongful convictions proceeding from institutional bias; sexual predators who bullied their way out of consequences for decades; the massive numbers generated by evil turn it into an abstraction with no handles. (There is a sociological term for this, I think…it’s the same reason very rich people will sometimes harp on a $5 drapery tie-back during a million-dollar mansion reno, that even they don’t “comprehend” their own money above a certain number of decimal places, but everybody understands five bucks? If you can pull the term, drop it in the comments; I’d appreciate it.)

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The point is, a switch flips at a certain number or amount, when individual people turn into capital-P This Problem and it’s harder to get and stay focused on it, but we need to — not least because I live in a Blue Lives Matter district where conservatives are going to try to mis-correlate all kinds of minor local ills to the compassionate-COVID releases of prisoners of color, guaranteed. Aviv’s piece is a good way back into the unabstracted realities here. — SDB

Speaking of understanding five bucks! …I’m so sorry, but it was just right up there on a tee. Anyway: times are very tough, but if you think you might like to upgrade to a paid subscription to Best Evidence — or give one to a friend — that subscription is in fact just five bucks a month.

And if you might like to, but simply cannot, we hope you’ll keep hanging out. We’re glad to have you. — SDB

The scripted Scotty Bowers project has chosen its writing and directing team, and it’s a doozy. Bowers, sexual entrepreneur and author of Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars, was also the subject of Matt Tyrnauer’s documentary, Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood — and was pretty clearly the inspiration for Dylan McDermott’s Hollywood character, and this is off-topic, but I’ve thought for years that McDermott’s own childhood might benefit from the documentary treatment).

Hollywood isn’t entirely about McDermott’s Ernie, though, and Searchlight Pictures is aiming for must-see prestige on the creative side, tapping Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg to write the script, and Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name) to direct. The latter choice is very smart, in my opinion; the screenwriters…we’ll see. What do you guys think? And can any of you recommend (or not) that documentary? — SDB

Tuesday on Best Evidence: You just never know what Eve’s going to come up with. I DO know that I’ve got TWO guests on The Blotter Presents this week: Kevin Flynn on Ann Rule’s Sleeping With Danger and Jessica Liese on the elusive The Last Narc — in case you’re looking to prep.

What is this thing? This should help. Follow The Blotter @blotterpresents on Twitter and Instagram, and subscribe to The Blotter Presents via the podcast app of your choice. You can also call or text us any time at 919-75-CRIME.