Mostly Harmless · Black Hands · Impeachment

Also: Lifetime announces its true crime slate

As I sat down to write this the House had just agreed to impeach the President. Not to make light of a very serious subject, but I couldn’t help but wonder* if any of this will take the oomph out of the upcoming American Crime Story: Impeachment. I was a grown-ass adult when the impeachment at the center of Murphy’s FX show went down, and it was wild — that blue Gap dress! A cigar that was not just a cigar! — but the tale pales in comparison to what we’ve seen in the past week/month/year.

It sort of feels like trying to convince folks to watch a multi-part series about shoplifting while OJ’s white Bronco rolls down the freeway. When you’re living history that has this narrative improbability, can ACS:I play as anything but…quaint? — EB

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*Sorry to Carrie Bradshaw you, but I AM writing this while contorted in an uncomfortable position on my bed in my rent-controlled apartment on an Apple laptop so if the shoe — in my case, a Dansko clog, not a Manolo — fits, I suppose I must wear it.

The Mostly Harmless saga has reached its end. This is the story about a hiker found dead in a Florida park in 2018, which I think I included in this publication less because I believed it to be a crime yarn, and more because the way Wired editor Nicholas Thompson approached the mystery of the dead man’s identity shared a lot of DNA with independent investigators like true-crime patron saint Michelle McNamara (whose thoughtful, sensitive approach is sorely missed).

This was the first chapter in the mystery, which Wired ran the day before the election. Despite that editorial timing, the challenge of identifying Mostly Harmless really caught on, Thompson writes in a follow-up published this week. And, in the end, the answer of who Mostly Harmless was — an allegedly abusive partner, a man who struggled with mental health, and a person who “was personable when you first met him, but after spending more time with him in an intimate way his personality completely changed.” The conclusion is such a revealing look at how deflating it can be when a mystery is resolved, especially when the central character isn’t, perhaps, as harmless as the investigator hoped. That said, the way so many people worked together to figure out who this man was is still inspiring, and a reminder that people come together via the internet for good far more frequently than they do for misinformation-flavored evil. — EB

The theme of Lifetime’s Winter 2021 true-crime adaptation slate is “Ripped From The Headlines.” Which, come to think of it, would also be an AMAZING prom theme. (Sarah, please make a note of this idea for our Best EviCon closing party when this thing gets acquired by Oxygen or whatever.) So, if you want to make your vaguely cornball viewing plans. here’s the deal:

  • Death Saved My Life (Feb 13, 8 PM)

    Megan Goode (a lot of network TV) plays a non-specific but allegedly based-in-fact woman who fakes her own death to escape her abusive spouse. In an subsequent doc, Beyond the Headlines: Faking Death, writer Elizabeth Greenwood (she wrote Love Lockdown: Dating, Sex, and Marriage in America's Prisons) explains the pseudocide phenomenon and details some actual cases.

  • The Long Island Serial Killer: A Mother’s Hunt for Justice (Feb 20, 8 PM)

    Kim Delaney (NYPD Blue) plays Mari Gilbert, the mother of LISK victim Shannan Gilbert. Right after the movie, Lifetime will air A&E’s 2011 LISK doc, which as I recall was pretty decent

  • Girl in the Basement (Feb 27, 8 PM)

    Judd freakin’ Nelson plays a controlling dad who locks his 17-year-old daughter in the — you guessed it — basement for 20 years, abusing and impregnating her all the while. It’s “inspired by actual events,” which is certainly vile. It’s directed by Elisabeth Röhm, who is, yes, Law And Order’s infamous “Is this because I’m a lesbian?” Its partner doc is Beyond the Headlines: Surviving Child Abduction and Imprisonment, in which abduction survivors Lori Poland and Katie Beers share their stories.

  • Circle of Deception (March 6, 8 PM)

    This one is based on Ann Rule’s Practice To Deceive, about the death of Russell Douglas, which I was worried about spoiling with this news link before I saw the title of its companion doc: Beyond The Headlines: Beauty Queens Gone Bad. The beauty queen in the adaptation is another Law And Order alum, Diane “ADA Casey Novak” Neal.

  • A House on Fire (March 13, 8 PM)

    Ann Rule strikes again! This one’s based on the 21-year-old Bitter Harvest, about the case of Debora Green, a doctor who admittedly burned her kids to death and poisoned her husband. Stephanie March (ADA Cabot on L&O:SVU; are you sensing a pattern here?) is Green, and the subsequent doc, Beyond The Headlines: Mental Health Myths and Misconceptions promises an examination of the mental health issues raised in the film.

Paid subscribers might recall that during my podcast-binge road trip in the fall of 2019, I reviewed Black Hands. And, wow, I was kind of an asshole about it: my first line is “If you’ve ever wondered if a podcast can be too detailed, please allow me to introduce you to Black Hands.”

The show about a 1994 mass slaying in New Zealand seemed perfect on paper, but its execution was problematic, with needless dead ends and slews of audio and docs that added nothing to the story. (You can read my full review here.)

But maybe there’s a second chance for Black Hands, as BE reader Margaret Howie let me know that the case is the subject of a dramatic adaptation that aired in New Zealand last fall. It was iffily reviewed and reportedly got the thumbs down from the surviving member of the Bain family, who many believe is also the suspect. David Bain, who says he came home to find his family dead, won’t watch the series, a close friend told the Otago Daily Times (even as he “admits he'll likely record the show and watch it ‘when I've got nothing to do’”). The trailer is here, the series is streamable for folks in NZ, and the rest of us will have to wait for Netflix to buy it up or use other means. You’re resourceful people, you’ll figure it out. — EB

Friday on Best Evidence: I’m going to pitch Sarah on some discussion thread ideas, so let’s see.

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