Killing Michael Jackson · The Triangle Fire · Kitty Genovese

Plus the sustaining power of "Twilight: Los Angeles"

Hey, y’all — just a quick Labor Day edition for you guys, since 1) some of you might, like me, be at your desks “laboring” today and need a mental break; and 2) a few of these stories will be past the sell-by if we leave ’em.

Looking for an on-point property to watch? Try American Experience’s “The Triangle Fire.” And if you’re still not sure what a shirtwaist even is, PBS has got you covered there too. — SDB


Killing Michael Jackson airs tonight at 8 PM on Bounce. (Not a hundred on where that is on your Spectrum dial, as I think it’s a relatively new net; read more on its website.) I got a screener, and my notes made me think now’s a good time to debut a modified version of the Spectrum Analysis pieces we used to run on Previously.TV. The basic idea was to rate various aspects of a show or episode using a 1-to-10 scale; I hacked it for true-crime stuff back in the day, and have re-tweaked it again here. The hope is that the rubrics I use will let you draw your own conclusions as to whether a given reviewed item is worth your time, but if there are axes I missed — or should add for, say, book reviews — let’s hear it!

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All right, let’s get into it.

Compelling True Story: 3/10
Your mileage will vary here; if you can still tolerate Jacko material, and didn’t read Untouchable, you may find this account of the criminal investigation into Michael Jackson’s death and Dr. Conrad Murray’s role in it essential. But there’s not so much here you can’t Google that completists need to set a DVR.

Buzz Level: 1/10
Bounce’s press materials mention that this is the U.S. premiere; a chyron with the word “behaviour” in it suggests this already aired overseas, where Jackson is perhaps less tainted. It may have been buzzy outside the States, but I’ve heard nobody even mention it.

Commitment Level: 1/10
Low at 61 aired minutes.

IMDb Pedigree: 2/10
Director Sam Eastall seems to have pertinent experience with programs like The Murder Of [X]: Police Tapes, but nothing “prestige” (or that I’d even heard of).

Access: 6/10
Bounce touts KMJ as “featuring never-before-seen images of that fateful day” (true, as far as I can tell) and describes it as “told through the eyes of detectives Orlando Martinez, Dan Myers and Scott Smith, all three of whom were involved in the investigation that ultimately lead to the arrest and conviction” of Murray. So, the access to case investigators is impressive — but is also the extent of it, as neither Murray nor any Jacksons is part of the docu. The doctor who developed propofol gives very good talking-head on how it works and how it was misused by Murray.

Also…copaganda, albeit a very weird varietal, but we’ll get to that anon.

Quality Of Case Overview: 7/10
This one’s a poser for me, because KMJ is pointedly narrow in its field: it’s dealing with Jackson’s death and whether Murray’s involvement was criminal, and that is it. That narrow a focus on this particular subject is simultaneously admirable — why bite off more than an hourlong basic-cable ep can chew — and kind of in denial about whether it’s even possible to divorce the end of Jackson’s life from the rest of it.

But if all you want is an overview of the death, yeah, it’s reasonably comprehensive.

Continuing Relevance: 2/10
For reasons not necessarily having to do with the nominal topic, KMJ does have some relevance…

Centering: 2/10
to the way we think about shows and documentary specials like this. The “centering” section is meant to gauge how well the narrative does at focusing on the victim(s), versus glamorizing a serial killer or overrelying on police versions of the story/investigation. Naturally, the very first time I use the metric, it’s excessively complicated: the victim was himself a victimizer, although KMJ chooses not to engage with that part of Jackson’s story; access to the cops doesn’t just guide the documentary, it’s the entire pitch for its existence.

The cops here do have some interesting insights into the case — Jackson on the autopsy table, his burn scars no longer hidden; that Murray kind of caught himself — but very little insight into how they come off. Their account of the Murray petard is typical, as Martinez notes that people “aren’t at their sharpest” in a crisis like that and “it’s our job to take those little mistakes that people make, and build a case on them.” Later, Martinez notes without flinching that working for LAPD means “you’re donning a uniform that has a history” — and then cites as key tentpoles in that history Charles Manson; Marilyn Monroe (?); and the fact that “we lost the OJ case.” You…don’t see that the “little mistakes” comment and the “history” of your uniform is tied to “losing” the OJ case? O…kay.

Genre Tropes: 6/10
This rating gauges how well a property avoids nonsense like crime-scene-tape stock footage, interviewees staring into the camera waiting for a chyron, etc. The cop-focused brief is an issue, but KMJ isn’t as slapped together as some in the genre (looking at you, The Autopsy Of…).

“Sustained Attention” Rating: 2/10
My attention started wandering about seven minutes in. Granted, I did read Untouchable, and the distracting element was a pair of litigious MAGA shitburgers from my neighborhood, but still.

“See” For Yourself
Behold: the smoking bottle. There’s also quite a few shots of crime-scene photos that reveal Jackson decorated his “sleep room” with advertising stand-ups of babies; it’s extremely weird.

Auxiliary Materials
The last hundred pages of Untouchable, I guess; Jackson’s life and death have become so bleakly radioactive since Leaving Neverland that I can’t really “recommend” further reading in the traditional sense. — SDB


A neighbor of Kitty Genovese, who gave the lie to everything we thought we knew about Genovese’s final moments, died last week. The Times obit puts it in perspective:

Two weeks after the murder, The New York Times reported in a front-page article that 37 apathetic neighbors who witnessed the murder failed to call the police, and another called only after she was dead.

It would take decades for a more complicated truth to unravel, including the fact that one neighbor actually raced from her apartment to rescue Ms. Genovese, knowing she was in distress but unaware whether her assailant was still on the scene.

That woman, Sophia Farrar, the unsung heroine who cradled the body of Ms. Genovese and whispered “Help is on the way” as she lay bleeding, died on Friday at her home in Manchester, N.J. She was 92.

I swear to God I don’t work for PBS but if you’ve never watched The Witness, you should check it out. — SDB


And if you still need one more item for your watchlist, may I suggest revisiting Anna Deavere Smith’s Twilight: Los Angeles. Vinson Cunningham also suggests it in a New Yorker column from last month — see, I did knock a couple mags off the stack! — while talking about its urgency in These Times and letting you know where to stream it. Click through for Cunningham’s excellent piece, or just watch it right now. Guess where it’s streaming? That’s right: PBS. Which I guess is now an initialism for “Pitched By Sarah”? — SDB


Eve and I strive to bring you the latest, greatest reviews, previews, and Theranos turtleneck shade every weekday…even the occasional federal holiday! If someone you know could benefit from the refreshing whiplash a Jacko/Genovese/legendary one-person show update generates, why not let them know about us?

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