Tennant On "Des" · Curtis Flowers · Forcening Results

Plus "Unsolved Mysteries," DB Cooper, JW Booth, and free stuff!

Thanks to everyone who voted in our inaugural True-Crime Forcening! It looks like you’ve picked us some good ones: Eve’s selection, in a landslide, is Class Action Park; mine was a narrower race, but The Fatch as Keith Raniere was edged by The Murders At White House Farm.

We’re looking forward to digging into these — but don’t forget, only paid subscribers will get to see our reviews, so if you’ve been on the fence about grabbing a sub, now’s the time! — SDB

Unsolved Mysteries is back with six more episodes. I watched five for Primetimer (the sixth is ghosty, which is fine but not my assignment there, or here) and assembled a watch/skip guide for the newest round of content. I didn’t think to check the first round of the reboot, but I noted directors in the second round, and you’ve got some decent résumés in the bunch…which made one particular episode a bit disappointing:

The story of JoAnn Romain's disputed death in Grosse Pointe, MI ten years ago isn't bad — none of the new episodes are — but it's a disappointment relative to its pedigree, as it's directed by Abducted In Plain Sight's Skye Borgman. Unfortunately, the narrative here relies pretty heavily on family members insisting that Romain "would never" have done various things police concluded she'd done prior to her drowning, which just isn't very compelling — and a number of aggravating factors in Romain's family life aren't revealed until late in the episode. Borgman is a proven pro at "and then" reveals within a crime story, but she can't get this one to go.

The picture above is from an NYC case from the late 1980s involving vanished toddlers; that one’s one of the stronger outings in the season’s back half. If you watch the new ones this week, let me know how you feel about my list. — SDB

History Channel fare is hit-or-miss for me — mostly miss; lotta filler — but our esteemed B.E. tipster Tara Ariano let me know that the upcoming season of History’s Greatest Mysteries might have some relevant episodes. The season premiere, which airs November 14 at 9 PM ET, is called “The Final Hunt for D.B. Cooper” (shah right; it’s never “final” with that guy); it’s followed midseason by a John Wilkes Booth episode. The rest of the season is shipwrecks — and yes, I’m putting the alleged alien crashdowns that take up a three-parter in December under that umbrella — but I might record those two episodes. If nothing else, narrator Laurence Fishburne should lend more dignity than usual to the proceedings.

On a side note: can we talk about how vaguely absurd artistic renditions of the moment of Lincoln’s assassination inevitably are? The one I grabbed above is one of the less unintentionally humorous efforts (hat-tip to the flute guy in the foreground pulling an “actors, amirite” face); there’s always a too-obvious cloud of smoke from Booth’s gun, or Lincoln cranked forward like he’s getting a chiropractic adjustment while looking like he’s in the middle of a belch…look, I can’t draw at all and I understand the difficulties, but good grief, Victorian artists. — SDB

Speaking of actor BS…but I kid David Tennant! Well, mostly. A New York Times piece on his performance as Dennis Nilsen makes note of the physical resemblance between the two men, but goes on to detail other ways Tennant found into his performance as the serial murderer in Des, including that he “even learned Nilsen’s signature,” which…okay? Tennant’s rationale makes sense, and is less artsy-fartsily phrased than you might be bracing for — “It’s just part of trying to pay attention to all the details that you can in the hope that they expose a greater truth.” — plus he has good things to say about the logistical processes of going to work on a nasty job like this.

When Margaret Howie reviewed the miniseries for us, she noted that Tennant is perhaps too charismatic to play this particular murderer, who flourished in part because he was so beige. I don’t know that Tennant would agree with that assessment, but in any case, the interview is interesting in large part because actors outside the States take their work as seriously as their American counterparts, but themselves/the job overall far less so, so their self-analysis about the work is way less…well, annoying. — SDB

If you like Wondery true-crime content and cash — or just one of those things — checkout the giveaway Wondery’s got going. It’s a relatively low bar to entry: just head to the podcast network’s Insta and follow the instructions from there!

While you’re over there, you miiiiight mention to them that the “true-crime word search” isn’t the classiest marketing move you’ve ever seen. (Is my true-crime bingo card just as tacky? Maybe! But the line between “commenting on genre tropes” and “getting twee with ‘engagement drivers’” isn’t actually all that fine.) — SDB

We give A&E a lot of guff around here — okay, mostly it’s Dan Abrams and the Live PD-verse, but still — but occasionally they get one right, and Accused: Guilty Or Innocent? is a pretty decent show that has gotten a second-season order at the network. Is it in part because programmers need to fill the hours left vacant by Live PD? Possibly — but when it debuted earlier this year, I noted that the show represented a shift in the way A&E tends to engage with the genre, and particularly with law enforcement:

It's unusual for documentary true-crime programming to portray one side of the courtroom this exclusively — ordinarily, you'd get at least nominal participation from the law-enforcement side of the case — but with the exception of court footage and/or chyrons noting that a prosecutor has offered an Accused subject a deal, viewers get the defense's perspective only.

This focus is particularly unexpected from an A&E property. A&E's true-crime programming, from 60 Days In to The First 48 to Live PD and its various spin-offs, tends to be much more interested in the state — the cops, the prosecutors, the corrections officers. Accused's attention is all on the defendant and the defense, and on the breadth of that experience: re-investigating crime scenes, deciding whether to testify on their own behalf, and defense attorneys "toughening up" their clients for what's coming in court.

While this isn't an entirely unique POV for a documentary series, Accused is, in tone and professional construction, a property you'd much sooner expect to see on a streaming service. Like Netflix's I Am A KillerAccused: Guilty Or Innocent? lets you sit with some unsympathetic behavior on the part of its subjects (and, not for nothing, notes the role of opioid addiction in many criminal proceedings without judgment). 

It’s not, like, TV canon — but it’s a departure for the channel, it tries to do something a little different, and it’s nice to see that rewarded by A&E and, presumably, viewers. If you’re on the lookout for a new “half-watch while crafting” joint, this one’s less grimy than most. — SDB

In The Dark wraps up Season 2 in fittingly legendary style with an interview with Curtis Flowers. I haven’t listened yet; I’m saving it for an hour-long car trip I’m making tomorrow. Here’s the brief from APM’s landing page for the episode:

During three years investigating the Curtis Flowers case, we’d talked to nearly everyone involved: lawyers, witnesses, jurors, family members, investigators, politicians, and many, many people around town. But there was one person we hadn’t yet interviewed — Curtis Flowers. That is, until one day in early October, a few weeks after he’d been cleared of all charges. For the final episode of Season 2, we at long last talk to the man at the center of it all.

It’s nice to see the sun on Flowers’s face, I’ll say that. — SDB

Tuesday on Best Evidence: The Chicago 7, and new podcasts.

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