Sex Next Door · Monster In The Shadows · Snopes
Plus Mike Fanone, Mondrians in the john, and more
Literally, sex work (…still, somehow). Figuratively, the way Quibi chopped up a perfectly good almost-feature-length doc into eight segments to make Sex Next Door.
Per the Roku Channel’s landing page, which is where you can sample the series even if you don’t have a Roku, “Sex workers Holiday, Endza, Cayenne, and Jessie give clients intimate experiences ranging from the pleasurable to the painful. In the process, they give a deep dive into their personal lives.” Accurate, but at the same time tells you almost nothing, so I’ll cut to the chase: I recommend it! Brought to you by, among others, producer Josh Shader (of The Chair), Sex Next Door is not without its flaws, but it’s free, you’ll zip right through it, and if you just watch the whole season in a block, it works.
One of the flaws, of course, is the bite-size episodes. I do think a sex-work documentary consisting of weekly short eps could work if it took a different tack — one story per week, say, or a series of diary-style interviews — but this is just a standard interwoven-perspectives format, and that’s fine, but there’s just no reason to julienne it in this fashion.
Another flaw: the project accepts the participants’ grand pronouncements about what they do without pushback. All four sex workers start the series based in Seattle, so you have perhaps a higher proportion of interviewees with big ideas about the anti-capitalist and/or scream-therapy potential of sex work — and some of those big ideas make a lot of sense. The most initially off-putting of the four, “Jessie Sparkles,” is an artist/woodworker/BDSM experience-builder, but just as you’re about to sprain an eye rolling it, he talks about the way emotion is carried in the body, and the way kink makes feelings accessible that need a way out. He seems to have a really good ear for his clients’ needs, and a gentleness that, in the end, pairs well with the whips. Later, Endza talks about the intersection of sex work and the healing arts, and grumbles, “We’re not just the dead hooker on TV” — and Sex Next Door is process-y and interesting about the day-to-day, and not afraid to let “it’s fahhhhne”-type statements from early in the season hang over the latter episodes when we find out that one subject has left the industry, and another dumped her boyf for sponging off her earnings.
And that relationship needed to end, mostly because the boyf couldn’t manage his feelings around his girlfriend’s growing success as a sex worker — but also because that woman has changed by the end of the series, and not just her hair color. There’s a hard snottiness to her that wasn’t there before, and because Sex Next Door is purposefully trying not to put their subjects’ affirmative choices in a values framework, it isn’t going to prod with off-camera questions along the lines of, “But so you don’t actually seem that happy and you started smoking?” And I’d rather have had talking-heads with Cayenne about her perception of her relationship with her very religious mother than the staged-seeming footage of their conversations we do get, because it seems like the issues there are not the ones they’re purportedly working through on-camera.
But all this is about my wanting to know more, about these people, their careers, their five-year plans, their industry challenges (SESTA-FOSTA cracking down on advertising; initial outlays for lingerie). Sex Next Door isn’t perfect, but it’s a compelling start. — SDB
“The idea of a 40-hour week is — unethical!” - Endza, Sex Next Door. …Look, a 40-hour week sounds like a damn vacation to me after decades of freelancing, but I wouldn’t give up my Best Evidence hours for anything. That said, Eve and I are still at the mercy of a capitalist system, so if you can help support our work with a paid subscription, we’d appreciate it.
It’s just $5 a month and it keeps us in the streaming subs and film-festival passes we need to do our best work around here; thanks in advance for considering it! — SDB
Speaking of streaming services, let’s kick off a good old-fashioned clearing-off of our story syllabus with a trailer from one — namely, Peacock, which is dropping three-part docuseries Monster In The Shadows on August 26th.
What’s it about? Well, actually some unclear antecedents in the press materials make it sort of hard to say, but: “The disappearance of Brittney Wood shocked and captivated the entire state of Alabama in 2012. This led to a shocking revelation about Brittney's family causing her disappearance to become forgotten in the public eye.” Wait, so the disappearance got forgotten, or the revelation? Anyone remember this case and got a rec on whether I should watch in order to untangle that sentence?
More headlines and longreads to keep you busy:
Sundance is launching the True Crime Story franchise, starting with two new shows — including one about small-town communities grappling with crimes in their midst, It Couldn’t Happen Here, hosted by an underrated hero of White Collar, Hilarie Burton Morgan. [Deadline]
Remember when we talked about plagiarism, fabulism, and their effects particularly on true-crime narrative and reporting? A cofounder of online debunking gold standard Snopes.com plagiarized dozens of pieces. It’s a site we’ve linked to around here, as recently as last week IIRC. Guess we need to do some trust-but-verifying of our own going forward. [Buzzfeed]
Officer Mike Fanone was on the front lines of the January 6 insurrection. It’s been a struggle. [Time]
This VF subhed says it all: “According to former Russian model Guzel Ganieva’s suit, [billionaire Leon] Black referenced Epstein’s proclivity for ‘very young girls,’ and once flew her to Florida against her will ‘to satisfy the sex needs of Epstein, his “best friend.”’” [Vanity Fair]
Greek police recovered a Picasso and a Mondrian stolen by a builder — described in the piece as a “49-year-old divorcee [sic]” — almost a decade ago. Another painting taken during the same heist was “discarded in a toilet” after the heister realized it had gotten damaged during the theft. [The Guardian]
CNN fired three unvaccinated employees…but The Terror Of Zoom, Jeffrey Toobin, still has a job. [The Mary Sue]
Forty-five years ago, “a school bus carrying 26 children and their driver disappeared from a small California town, capturing the world’s attention.” I’d never heard of the Chowchilla bus kidnapping, but you can join me in getting up to speed at [Vox]. — SDB
This week on Best Evidence: More Staircase casting, more inexplicably evil German experiments, the forgiveness of victims’ families, and much more.