The Blotter Presents 135: The Most Dangerous Animal Of All and Hustlers

Plus: Dirty Money, The Capones, and a grim HBO doc.

Pictured: The Best Evidence staff after one too many “bloody” puns about the Theranos trial.

Okay, not really, but Episode 135 of TBP is now live, and Eve’s my guest to talk about the fantastic Hustlers and all the things it does well (adapting a longread; not over-centering the white journalist’s experience; J. Lo’s con-process voice-overs). We’re also throwing some Actors, Amirite? shade we probably don’t have standing for…

…and in the Most Wanted segment, we’re discussing FX’s foray into the non-fiction crime space with The Most Dangerous Animal Of All, a journey with best-selling author Gary L. Stewart into the dark heart of his quest to prove that his late birth father was the Zodiac killer. It’s not just that Stewart’s evidence is circumstantial in a straw-grasping way; it’s not just that he’s asked to act in re-enactments of his own research that make good TV; it’s that the series producers themselves 1) don’t seem to believe him, and 2) have not let him know that until the end. I hadn’t read any reviews until after we recorded — another topic Eve and I touched on; this seemed to be the “big release” that most crime-review players weren’t talking about, possibly because nobody else got screeners either — but Maria Elena Fernandez’s Vulture piece on the series suggests that TMDAOA’s initial brief was to document the toll Stewart’s obsession took on those around him…and then turned into a “gotcha”-ish scenario when it became clear Stewart’s book was not entirely truthful.

Whether you watched the whole thing, bailed after the cipher foolishness, or never intended to go near it, let us know your thoughts! — SDB

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Dirty Money’s second season is out today. My husband and I binged the whole first season at the end of 2018 and quite enjoyed it — if you can call “simmering resentment of the 0.001%” “enjoyment,” but welcome to 2020 in these United States, I guess. Anyway, we didn’t hear anything about an S2 and figured it had gotten quietly retired by Netflix. Nope! It’s back, and I’ve reviewed the series as a whole for Primetimer. Your takeaway: it’s like Frontline, but only corporate topics and with more swears…and that’s not a bad thing. — SDB


Speaking of Frontline, here’s a Previously.tv write-up of an early-2014 episode on insider trading…involving, ironically, a guy who was positioned to buy the New York Mets from the Wilpons (often bitterly called “the Wilponzis” after they claimed to have lost a gasquillion dollars to Bernie Madoff, then refused to spend any money on the team for like a decade after that) before backing off the deal last month.

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It's a new year; do we have a new Frontline to contend with, one that's not unremittingly bleak about human ruination of the planet and one another?

Worthwhile Newsy Show Attempted: Frontline's "To Catch A Trader"

Topic: "King of Wall Street" Steven A. Cohen and his hedge fund -- and many, many others -- leveraged illegal inside information to get ridiculous returns on investment portfolios. A years-long investigation ensued, and Frontline talked to many of the players.

How Far I Expected To Get: Maybe ten minutes? For starters, although Frontline is better than most at explaining market complexities -- how, for example, the mortgage crisis snowballed -- that's not always a good thing. This show has a way of making outrageous results, be it of the failure to vaccinate, of armed-forces intransigence on prosecuting sexual assaults, or of how porous the SEC insider-trading statute is sound eminently obvious and avoidable. That in turn is enraging; you just feel powerless as a viewer, and it's never worse than when it's a Wall Street story and some guy in a seven-thousand-dollar suit who refused to comment to Frontline is getting sentenced to a lousy 18 months in country-club jail for defrauding civilian customers, only to get a book deal and a spot on Celebrity Apprentice.

When It Won Me Over: The 11-minute mark.

What Did It: The crisp explanation of the evolution of hedge funds, and the standard "2 percent of assets, 20 percent of profits" that most funds charge versus the 3/50 split Cohen took, had one of my feet on board, as did correspondent Martin Smith, whose disgusted "How the hell is THAT legal?" about certain banking practices thrilled the dusty pinko corners of my heart (when he wasn't hammering a market-research VP about going back on his own statement on the inevitability of an insider-trading scandal). Objectivity is great, but it's nice to know the journo is as grossed out as you are by what he's hearing.

But what really did it is the interview with a former Streeter named Turney Duff. (That name is straight out of fratty-trader central casting, too. It's like there's a name generator under the bull statue's tail for that shit. "Congratulations, young Jedi. 'Chauncey Funzig' now you are.") Duff has watered hair and the carefully trimmed beard of a recovering options flack, and he's a solid storyteller who used to work at one of the more notorious funds back in the day. He described his working life at one point as basically that montage in Oliver Stone's Wall Street with Bud in his sunglasses, eavesdropping to get good intel for Gekko.

My pops always said that movie was practically a documentary.

Worth Taking A Run At It? YES. Even if you always glaze over and/or get super-pissed about the Wall Street stories, watch this one; it's like a juicy Vanity Fair crime story, but in high-fiber TV form, and the hour flies by. A little heavy on the B-roll of that one guy with the phone on his ear, but it's educational without being dry...or hopeless. — SDB, 1/8/14


If you had to guess, what would a show called The Capones be? An episode or spinoff of Mobsters on the History Channel, right? Or a Ken Burns joint?

Alas: no. It was a reality show. I reviewed it for Previously, and my hed called it “criminally bad.” Anyone else watch this foolishness at the time? Anyone else a little surprised the CW still doesn’t have a show that’s like Riverdale x Young Guns?

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What is this thing?

You know what it's not? It's not a serialized version of 1991's Tiger Beat-supergroup period joint Mobsters, and I knew that, but then I forgot, and then I watched the actual show and felt disappointed all over again that The CW hasn't found a way to transplant all the Capone brothers we know and…well, know from Boardwalk Empire to a sweaty, bloody, "boy this Depression is hot work I'd better take my shirt off"-y Tuesday-night proto-mobster soap.

Also, said actual show is so terrible that it's hard to focus on it long enough to discern its actual subject. Best I can tell, The Capones is a "reality" show about distant cousins of Al Capone who pretend at ties to that thing of theirs, while running a family pizzeria and arguing with all the sincerity and brio of reheated off-brand boxed mac and cheese.

When Is It On?

Tuesdays at 10 PM ET on Reelz.

Why Was It Made Now?

"Why, period" is the better question. I don't have an answer for you. Dominic Capone, chyroned as "The Boss," is actually surnamed "Pantone," but between the (in-)famous name, the surface similarities to properties like Jersey Shore and Real Housewives of NJ, and the flat-as-a-shadow accents that make The Capones a Cook County variation on reality's recent redneck-chic trend, it probably seemed like a net just waiting for a slam dunk.

What's its pedigree?

Executive producer Jonathan Koch has overseen some good projects (30 For 30s, Owner's Manual) and some shit (Hollywood Hillbillies, Beverly Hills Pawn). He evidently teamed up with another producer, Curtis Leopardo, with ties to the Cicero, IL area and…not much else on his c.v.

The Capone was a hall-of-fame gangster, caught thanks mostly to forensic accounting.

...And?

This is bad television. It's badly lit, it's badly staged and acted (and yes, I know, but it's 2014, we all know reality TV gets juiced at least a little bit in various ways with editing and retakes and whatnot, and it's incumbent on the producers of the genre to do it seamlessly and well in that case), it has no reason to exist, and its subjects do and say nothing of interest.

Just one example: Dominic's girlfriend of 12 years, Staci, fights with Dominic's mother, who smears a meatball on the portrait of Dominic and Staci in their entryway. I didn't believe one damn thing about anything in that scene -- that Staci and "The Mother" argue, that she used a real meatball, that that portrait hung there or even existed before filming began. Forget the end-credits bit where Staci's just firing a gun off her back deck into a tree and pretending the tree is Mommanic, which can't have actually happened for half a dozen reasons. …See, you already forgot it. The show isn't even bad enough to stick in the memory…much like the lines the cast is looking at on off-camera cue cards, then delivering after interminable delays.

...But?

Lou Fratto, who's in a ladies' wig and (fake?) Cotton Club mustache, has a Father Guido Sarducci-meets-The Show With Vinny way about him that, in the right project, could maaaaaaybe turn into something. As it is, I have no clue what he's doing there or why he raided the Mama's Family wig shelf.

...So?

A complete failure.


One more from the archives: my review of The Cheshire Murders, an HBO doc on a home invasion in Cheshire, CT that left me feeling worked over.

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The Cheshire Murders is one of those worthwhile but devastating movies, like Dear Zachary: A Letter To A Son About His Father. You won't want to watch it twice, and you won't need to. It stays with you. I haven't felt this beat up by an HBO docu since There's Something Wrong With Aunt Diane.

This isn't to say I don't recommend The Cheshire Murders (and the others). After a mildly trite beginning -- the how-could-this-happen-here small-town-life B-roll with a VO from the local news, the seemingly perfect Petit family shown in grinning family portraits -- The Cheshire Murders begins its real work. First, we learn what befell Dr. William Petit and his wife and two daughters July 23, 2007: a home invasion that began with the savage beating of Dr. Petit with a baseball bat, detoured through sexual assault, and ended in a gasoline blaze that destroyed the house and killed wife Jennifer and daughters Hayley and Michaela. The perpetrators -- Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky -- fled the scene, ramming a police car, but only got a block before being apprehended, and none of what I've written so far is in dispute. Hayes and Komisarjevsky both admitted involvement promptly, and eventually tried to plead guilty to get a life sentence.

But it's not so simple, of course. The crime raises every big question you can imagine -- about how the police handled the case, during and after the commission of the crime (the police, tipped to the ongoing horror by Jennifer Petit herself when Hayes took her to the bank to withdraw money, didn't enter the home immediately; as of the airdate, they still have never sat down with Jennifer's parents to tell them what happened that morning). About what role hideous physical and sexual abuse plays in the formation of a criminal mind, and about whether "praying it out" instead of turning to traditional psychiatry and medication to treat adolescent PTSD and depression just exacerbates the problem. About whether the death penalty can bring any peace to survivors. I don't support it, personally, but the audio of Komisarjevsky's confession had me halfway to lighting him up myself. Who uses so many clichés and during a police confession? "A home invasion gone terribly wrong" -- he says this about his own crime. He "shook [Jennifer Petit] gently awake." What is this, a Regency novel? Who admits to violating an 11-year-old -- and taking pictures on his cell phone -- but then turns around all "are you CRAZY? I would never set them on FIRE." Oh, is that the bridge too far. Uch.

A career criminal; that's who might speak this way. A guy who's gotten locked up for almost twenty burglaries. A guy, like his partner Hayes, who shouldn't have gotten paroled -- another issue raised by TCM. A sociopath. But while this aspect of the film, its compulsive returning to how the system or who in it might have prevented these revolting crimes, is enormously frustrating, it's made so by a truly fantastic breadth of access. Jennifer's family talks a lot to the filmmakers, of course -- and her steadfast parents recall the Bagbys in Dear Zachary somewhat -- but the movie also features interviews with Steven Hayes's daughter Alicia, who refers to attending the police academy; Hayes's brothers, whose trembling hatred and fear of him is remarkable; Rev. Norman Mesel, whose daughters both got romantically and sexually involved with Komisarjevsky, possibly at the same time, but either way, it's ooky, an opinion Mesel and his daughters more or less share at this point (Norman: "And the second thing I shared with him is that you're a pedophile"). The demolition of the Petit home to build a memorial garden, and all the fragile sweaters and notebooks getting clawed into the dumpster and buried in rubble…whew.

The amazing shot towards the end of Hayes's attorney doing a presser in a high wind outside the courtroom, holding himself rigid against it and shivering, is a good thumbnail for the darkly effective The Cheshire Murders. This true-crime-doc veteran highly recommends it (look for it on HBO On Demand), but watch it with a buddy, on a night you can afford to stare at the ceiling for a while. — SDB, 7/22/13


Tomorrow on Best Evidence: Welcome to Hell (not being cute about this newsletter; it’s a memoir of one man’s time in Angola), the Dating Game killer, and more! Got a topic request? Call or text us: 919-75-CRIME.


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