Inventing Anna · JFK · L.A. Baseball
Plus premiere dates and (uch) Portnoy
Bulletproof premieres on Independent Lens on Monday, February 14. Check your local PBS listings to confirm (and just a reminder: PBS is an excellent resource for non-lurid genre documentaries; Frontline alone!), but the 2020 doc’s IL debut is pegged to the date of the 2018 shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL. From PBS’s PR email:
The documentary takes a new approach to the conversation around gun violence in schools by examining attempts to stop it. Training, surveillance systems, lockdown mechanisms, and a host of bulletproof products are all among the growing effort to develop, market, and sell a panacea to this persistent, recurring crisis.
The film brings viewers inside schools across the United States, observing the age-old traditions that regularly take place: homecoming parades, basketball practice, morning announcements, and math class. Unfolding alongside these scenes are an array of newer rituals: lockdown drills, teacher firearms training, metal detector inspections, and school safety trade shows selling state-of-the-art products.
You’ll find more on the film, which you cord-cutters can watch on the PBS streaming app, on the PBS website. — SDB
More premiere dates! Among recently announced release dates for upcoming projects:
The Dropout (aka “the ‘Amanda Seyfried as Elizabeth Holmes’ one”): Thursday March 3 on Hulu (and Eve and I will be talking about it on Extra Hot Great that week)
The Missing Children (a doc that “exposes the Catholic Church’s involvement in the trafficking, neglect and suspicious deaths of babies born to unwed mothers in Ireland”): Thursday March 3 on Topic
JFK: Destiny Betrayed AND JFK Revisited: Through The Looking Glass (the former is a VOD docuseries from Oliver Stone; the latter, which I reviewed when it dropped on Showtime last year, isn’t so much a look back at Stone’s film as it is the entire case, and it’s watchable, but it’s John Munch-y as hell at the same time): Tuesday March 8 on VOD
Tokyo Vice (aka “the Ken Watanabe-/Ansel Elgort-starring docudrama whose pilot Michael Mann directed”): Thursday April 7 on HBO Max
Add to that Amazon’s Bug Out (March 1) and The Thing About Pam (March 8), and Eve and I should probably start hydrating now if we want any shot at covering all the bold-type properties headed our way in the next two months. — SDB
A paid subscription would hook us up with a lot of Gatorade! It also lets us pay contributors, and along with all the serieseses premiering in March, we’ve got Susan’s Edgar-nominees series, plus book reviews from Elizabeth Held, and more — and the more paid subscribers we have, the more of those pieces we can run (and the better we can pay for them!).
Not to mention there’s a near-three-year archive of paywalled stuff for you to browse, so if you can join us behind the paywall, we’d love it! But if you can’t, we’re still glad you’re here. — SDB
Ugly updates this week to a handful of baseball/sports-adjacent stories I’ve mentioned here in the past. (CW for sexual violence.) First up: Eric Kay’s trial is finally underway. Kay stands accused of supplying the drugs that led to L.A. Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs’s 2019 overdose; proceedings had barely started before the spotlight landed on former Great Met Hope Matt Harvey (above, during his tenure on the Angels staff), who may have supplied drugs to Skaggs the night of his death. Skaggs’s overdose was attributed to counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl, whereas the pills he purportedly got from Harvey were legitimate (albeit not prescribed to Skaggs) oxycodone, and not implicated. Still, it appears Harvey behaved illegally enough that prosecutors could compel his cooperation. Craig Calcaterra summed it up at Cup Of Coffee yesterday:
Harvey will be called as witness this week and, as I noted on Monday, a person with the initials “M.H.” was identified in the prosecution witness [list] as possessing some degree of immunity from prosecution. I'd guess that the the defense is going to try to muddy the waters with a story of lots of people who are not Kay giving Skaggs pills, including Harvey, and that Harvey’s immunity deal was given in response. Specifically, so that he can say “I gave him only pink oxy pills” which the lab will say did not contribute to his death.
The baseball commentariat has said for months that the Kay trial is going to send a whole heap of skeletons clattering out of MLB’s closet; this shit came out on Day One. At the same time, though, it’s not entirely a surprise to hear Harvey’s name here. Using/lending opiates isn’t why Harvey went from once-in-a-generation franchise starter to mayor of Gopher-Ball City, but we read about enough tardiness/“breaking training” kerfuffles, and heard enough rumors about booze and clubbing, to suspect that the serious injuries that did derail Harvey’s career weren’t entirely bad luck, but perhaps partly poor conditioning proceeding from substance misuse.
And of course, in the end, this will do little to comfort Skaggs’s family, or to address the larger structural problems here, like the ways that criminalizing addiction fails everyone involved. It’s just a bunch of guys who each own 42 pairs of sweatshorts trying to throw each other under the team bus.
And then there’s the news that Trumpy fuckstick Trevor Bauer won’t face criminal charges for sexual assault. Almost every report about that decision coming out of L.A. also noted that that didn’t mean Major League Baseball couldn’t take action on the allegations.
Los Angeles Times @latimesThough Trevor Bauer will not face criminal charges, he may still be suspended by Major League Baseball. Commissioner Rob Manfred retains the right to suspend Bauer. He is widely expected to do so, but not soon. https://t.co/PqPI4A1dgo
My prediction: Manfred and Dodgers ownership hide behind the lockout and postpone a decision until players and owners reach an agreement, then very quietly suspend Bauer for a year and hope everyone forgets he’s a predator so they don’t have to eat the remainder of his contract. Even that is probably optimistic.
And finally, Barstool dingleberry Dave Portnoy is suing Insider.com for defamation. You may recall Insider correspondent Julia Black’s report from last November, in which three women went on the record with their scary, not entirely consensual experiences with Portnoy (others came forward later). Portnoy denied the allegations, went hard after Insider in the months following, and in Calcaterra’s opinion is probably just filing the suit to rally the base…but he could get hoist by his own petard if it gets as far as depositions. — SDB
I can’t imagine I have to review the particulars of the Anna Delvey/Sorokin case for anyone here — we truly have been linking out to Sorokin-iana almost since the first edition of this newsletter — but Sorokin “pretended to be a wealthy German heiress under the name Anna Delvey in order to defraud banks, hotels, and wealthy acquaintances.”
Convicted on various larceny and fraud charges in May 2019, Sorokin was sprung on February 11 of last year; picked up for overstaying her visa the next month; and as of this writing is apparently still in ICE custody awaiting deportation.
[And here’s where you may find spoilers! If you don’t wish to know specifics, skip to the end.]
Inventing Anna, the long-awaited all-star Shondaland take on Sorokin and the socialite-scam story that seduced a nation in 2019, is nine episodes long, and each one clocks in at at least 58 minutes. My gut reaction to the sheer volume of the property was that it’s almost abusively self-indulgent; prestige-project bloat is neither unique to true crime nor a recent problem, but it is endemic in the genre, it is becoming increasingly difficult to tolerate, and my schedule this week already would have made O’Hare air-traffic controllers back away from my desk all “nope no thank you”…folks, I wanted any excuse to hate Inventing Anna and bail on it after an episode and change. But I didn’t, and I couldn’t. It’s so so watchable!
It’s not perfect, mind you. It doesn’t have to run that long, I suspect. (Full disclosure: I pulled the ripcord after three episodes so I could get a review written before, like, Sunday. I do plan to finish the series, though!) I clocked a number of scenes that seemed designed to make us marvel at all the designer labels, glittering vistas, and costly home furnishings, which both makes sense for a project about a socialite flimflammer, and is probably a waste of visual breath, given how many viewers will consume the series on their phones. And the changing of certain names and trademarks but not others is weird; why rename New York Magazine “Manhattan,” but then not change the font? Why rename Jessica Pressler, who wrote the original article, “Vivian Kent,” when Pressler’s a producer?
Is it because Vivian, the POV character who carries us through the entire story, is…n’t a very good reporter? Because she isn’t. I can’t imagine that isn’t a function of the series needing a framework for process exposition on how scams 1) work and 2) get uncovered; I think it’s also a means to give Shondaland’s extremely deep bench something to do besides exchange looks in Manhattan’s “Scriberia” bullpen, which I would absolutely watch a nine-parter on just on its own, and if the result is Anna Deavere Smith, Terry Kinney, and Jeff Perry getting their All The President’s Men on in good old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting montages, you will never hear me complain about that.
But it’s hard to invest in Vivian’s journo-redemption quest — complete, I regret to inform you, with a long-suffering spouse and an insufficiently satirized crazy wall — when the Boomer dinosaurs have to walk her through an Insta deep-dive. Anna Chlumsky is compelling and prickly and almost puts Vivian over (her meltdown during an ultrasound is ugly and real and really well done), but there’s a disconnect between how important we’re repeatedly told the story is to Vivian, and how important it apparently isn’t to the series that she be better at basic fact-finding than, like, Dory in the first season of Search Party.
But the acting! It’s captivating, across the board. Chlumsky is great; Smith Kinney Perry LLP are a delight; Arian Moayed as Todd, Attorney At Law is fun to watch, and it’s always nice to see Caitlin FitzGerald (Mrs. Todd) and Debra Mooney (a judge) and Josh Molina (a yacht-bro investor). Katie Lowes is historically not my favorite, but that isn’t her fault (most of the actors on Scandal ended up screwed over by that writing eventually) and she’s well cast as Rachel (DeLoache Williams). And what can I say about Julia Garner as Anna? It’s such a contrast with her turn in Dirty John, and she’s so unafraid to underline Anna’s smug assholery and to roll around in that bizarre Hepburn-on-the-Volga accent like it’s a patch of catnip. You can see her thinking, weighing her choices, confidently deciding; you can’t take your eyes off her, or any of it.
…It’s ten hours, people. I really did say, out loud, looking at the episode menu, “Ms. Rhimes, how dare you.” And yet: I recommend it! It’s process-y, it’s pretty, it’s great actors having a great time, and once you figure out the parts that don’t contribute as much, you can just skip over them. Give it a try! And let us know what you think. — SDB
Friday on Best Evidence: Trojan Horse, the Epix slate, and more.