Official Unsolved Mysteries Pod · 120 Executions · Allen v. Farrow

Plus a plethora of hip-hop stories

A new Biggie Smalls doc is set to hit Netflix March 1. Based on the PR materials, Biggie: I Got A Story To Tell seems less likely to focus on the cold-case aspects of Christopher “Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace’s death; it’s exec-produced by Sean Combs and Biggie’s mom, among others, and promises

a fresh look at one of the greatest, most influential rappers of all time by those who knew him best. Made in collaboration with Biggie’s estate, I GOT A STORY TO TELL is a rendering of a man whose rapid ascent and tragic end has been at the center of rap lore for more than twenty years.

Directed by Emmett Malloy, this intimate documentary features rare footage filmed by his best friend Damion “D-Roc” Butler and new interviews with his closest friends and family, revealing a side of Christopher Wallace that the world never knew.

Wallace, who would be about to turn 50 had he lived (!), is enormously charismatic and I always enjoy being reunited with his sound in whatever context…but is anyone else a bit put off by Combs’s ongoing business relationship to Wallace’s death? I believe Combs is still genuinely bereft; I also think Combs’s premiere talent is as a packager and promoter, and that’s not per se a bad thing, but I’ve always found the overlap in that Venn…discomfiting.

Not to mention that I feel like the 2010s emptied the pockets of this case as a cultural prospect pretty thoroughly. Is there really anything left to say that Biggie: The Life of Notorious B.I.G., Unsolved, or the Slow Burn season didn’t already say?

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I mean, I’ll watch it…and there’s worse ways for Wallace’s friends and colleagues to work through their grief than to keep making docs about how awesome he was. But we may have entered the territory of diminishing returns as far as anything new. Just in case I’m wrong (it happens, frequently!), here’s the trailer. — SDB

Want more of a true-crime focus in your hip-hop history? FX’s Hip Hop Uncovered premiered last night, which means it’s probably heading to Hulu as we speak. Decider’s Benjamin H. Smith seems to think it’s worth a look:

Hip Hop Uncovered is sensationalistic, possibly exploitative and riddled with cliché dialogue. It’s also informative, entertaining and incredibly addictive.  The mix of characters and their different stories keep things fresh, even when you think you’ve heard the story before, and their reflections are heartfelt, insightful and tinged with regret, besides Haitian Jack, who seems to revel in his infamy, a perfect TV villain.

The series will cover other storied “extra-legal” rap figures like Eugene “Big U” Henley (who’s one of the series’ exec producers); Queens, NY siblings Debra “Aunt Deb” and James “Bimmy” Antney; and Christian “Trick Trick” Mathis, whom Eminem pushed to become a rapper.

Not sure I’ll check this one out; I don’t know about you guys, but it seems to me like FX has better luck with scripted true-crime stories. There’s a certain high-gloss glibness to the network’s presentation that works better with “re-imaginings” IMO, because the flash lets the story get at or reflect something deper, but in a more traditional docu, it’s just flash? I don’t know if that makes any sense. In any case, if you gave it a look and think I should do the same, let me know. — SDB

HBO’s four-part Allen v. Farrow drops Sunday. Earlier this week, I mentioned the dueling properties on offer that night, and while I’d put this one at the head of the list, I’d also caution you that it’s tough sledding given the content — and I counsel particularly against letting it stack up on the DVR and watching all four in a sitting. That’s what I did to review it, and it’s left a pall over the week. That’s a testament to Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering’s filmmaking, in its way; here’s more from my review at Primetimer:

One of Allen v. Farrow's strengths is understanding not just how complicated the story is, but also how the intervening decades have compressed the story to headlines and soundbites. Filmmakers Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick take us carefully through the history of Allen and Farrow's relationship, of Farrow's previous relationships, and of Allen's relationship to the culture and particularly to his home city, not just to remind us of nuances to the narrative that those of us who were surrounded by it at the time may have forgotten, but to give viewers context. Why did Dylan's accusations create such a furor? And given that furor, why was it so hard for us as a society to accept?

A mostly-irrelevant side note: I had a sidebar in my review of Ronan Farrow’s Catch & Kill over a year ago about speculation as to Farrow’s paternity — i.e., he’s not Woody’s biological child; he’s Frank Sinatra’s — but Allen v. Farrow uses several pictures of Mia’s father in which he looks a lot like Sinatra. Again, this isn’t pertinent or any of my business, I just find genotypes fascinating. Like, why do my brother and I both look like our dad to varying degrees, but not really like each other — except when we’re walking, at which time we are apparently unmistakably related?

“Come for the reviews; stay for the Punnett squares!” — SDB

Unsolved Mysteries has a new podcast — an official one. My initial reaction: “Uch, I really don’t have time for this.” I especially didn’t have figurative time for the production company talking up “the NEW voice of the series, award-winning host/narrator Steve French, who will guide listeners through all new cases and stories with the same eerie resonance,” like, no offense there Frenchie but you step to the legacy of my man Stack at your peril.

So it was with arms folded and brow cocked that I pressed play on the first ep this morning, but that plinky theme song worked its old black magic on me…and I have to admit, French is really good for this. He puts (may God forgive me for this turn of phrase) just the right amount of mustard on the narration, and his voice and pronunciations are distinctive but not distracting.

The pod comes from Cadence13 and Cosgrove/Meurer, and will tackle one case each week, with the series’ trademark range of cold cases, alien sightings, and the supernatural; you can listen here. — SDB

Are you giving up crappy/mediocre true crime for Lent? It’s harder than you’d think, but we can help. And while paid subscriptions help us reward our fantastic contributors (and rent shiteous ripped-from-the-headlines features so you don’t have to), most Best Evidence content and discussion is free. So if you’re actually giving up caffeine for Lent and want to shift the coffee fund over to us, we welcome that

but if you just want to hang out and bitch about Cecil Hotel for free, we welcome that too. Bring a friend!

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Okay, so recommending a Reddit thread isn’t so “helpful” in this regard, but it’s interesting timing given the discussion in the B.E. comments yesterday about Joe Berlinger’s Crime Scene series and how it leveraged Elisa Lam’s mental-health struggles to create tension. The thread’s called “Which unsolved disappearances do you believe have the most simple explanations?”, and Lam and the other usual suspect in the discussion, Maura Murray, both get mentions, along with various other cases. If you’ve been looking for a place to vent about an unsolved “mystery” that you suspect is nothing of the kind — or just read some confidently expressed crackpottery — click here. — SDB

After tracking every execution in the United States for over five years, The Marshall Project has published “What 120 Executions Tell Us About Criminal Justice in America.” It’s the culmination of those years of tracking in TMP’s The Next to Die project, which is now winding down as the org moves into “a new series of stories on capital punishment, Death Sentences,” and the piece includes a repository of stories on all those executed; explication of the ways death sentences and the death-row experience on paper and in practice diverge, and the cruel and unusual punishments inflicted by bureaucracy and the simple passage of time; the “fervor” of certain states’ pursuit of the death penalty, even as others look to maintain moratoria on it or even explicitly abolish it; the effects of the pandemic year on this aspect of criminal “justice”; and much more.

I know TMP content can be enraging, but it’s painstakingly collected data that, for me, always illuminates a divided country, and while it’s not a fun fizzy heist read, I recommend it anyway. — SDB

Thursday on Best Evidence: Whatever Eve’s thinking about, I recommend that too!

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