The Serpent · The Menendez Brothers · Tulsa
Plus: Woody Allen isn't making things easier on himself.
|Best Evidence||Apr 6||3||3|
I’m not sure why Sarah and I keep passing The Serpent back and forth. The Netflix series about 1970s-era serial killer Charles Sobhraj (of Law and Order: Criminal Intent fame) dropped April 2, and if you’re like me the streaming platform has tried to convince me that that’s what I want to watch instead of Nailed It.
I gave it a shot over the weekend and couldn’t fully engage; this, despite lush and period-specific production design and the presence of certified hottie Tahar Rahim as Sobhraj, who tells ET that he took the role because “I’ve always wanted to explore evil.”
In fact, that might be what put me off. Based on the three episodes I watched (there are eight total), the series looks fantastic, and Rahim and co-star Jenna Coleman (who plays Sobhraj’s girlfriend/alleged roper Marie-Andrée Leclerq) are gorgeous, glam figures of aspiration. It all feels like one of those decadent Helmut Newton-style photo shoots you’d see in W or Interview in the early 1990s, all tanned skin and sexy menace.
But good looks only get you so far, and after a while, the show feels hollow. (It doesn’t help that — for whatever reason — it also follows a non-chronological path, one that’ll have you pausing in an attempt to figure out where we are in the narrative.) There’s a lot that the series could have said, about Sobhraj’s Mr. Ripley-like resentment of his victims, as well as about the overall (and still relevant) tension between wealthy Western tourists and people who like in Thailand. Instead, the show falls back on some pretty standard “Bangkok is so exotic” that feels pretty tone-deaf for a show from the vaunted BBC — especially in these days of heightened awareness of anti-Asian marginalization.
But even putting my snowflakey issues aside, The Serpent just didn’t make the grade for me. Ultimately, it felt too nasty and hard-to-follow to be nihilistic “fun” (a la Natural Born Killers) or solid laundry-folding background, but it’s also too glam and superficial to play as an ambitious look at a case. Instead, it occupies this unsteady middle ground, where to fully follow what’s happening you can’t look away — but what’s on the screen isn’t quite compelling enough to keep your attention. — EB
Have you checked out The Serpent? If so, we’d love to hear your thoughts.
20/20 picked up the Menendez Brothers/TikTok story last week. What a weird sentence, huh?
Here’s the deal: In February, the New York Times covered a wave of young social media users (primarily TikTok and Instagram) who have posted multiple defenses of Lyle and Erik Menendez, both of whom were convicted of killing their parents before many of their newfound defenders were born. From the NYT:
In addition to inspiring sympathy from young people learning about their case, the Menendez brothers have been cast by some on social media as stars (their video edits invoke hallmarks of “stan” culture, like upbeat pop music and dreamy soft-focus shots) and sex symbols. This isn’t new: When they were first arrested, the brothers received 1,000 letters a week at the Los Angeles County jail, Mr. Rand said, some of which contained nude photos. He remembers seeing “groupies” lined up overnight to get seats at their trial.
But some posters see such romanticization as a distraction from their advocacy. “I want people to stop sexualizing them and actually focus on the case, because their looks have nothing to do with it,” said Zoe Patterson, 17, an avid Menendez supporter from Melbourne, Australia, who made fan accounts on Instagram and TikTok in August. She hopes the brothers never encounter “those sexualization edits, considering they’re both married and have suffered a traumatic childhood.”
It’s unclear what spurred the sudden Gen Z interest in the case, but now the folks at 20/20 are also on the phenomenon, with an “event special” that asks, “Is TikTok’s ‘cancel culture’ phenomenon trying to cancel the Menendez brothers prison sentences?”
Oh, boy. First, 20/20, that’s not what “cancel culture means.” Second, you’ve gotta click on the “video transcript” link for the trailer; it’s hilarious and weirdly poetic. According to press materials, viewers can expect “details about the family and the case through the eyes of the brothers’ best friends, neighbors, the lead detectives, lawyers and jurors on the case,” and a new interview with Lyle.
The episode aired on 4/2, and can be viewed here with login from a TV provider. Now this seems like good laundry-folding background noise, with the bonus of occasional (accidental) humor from the good folks at 20/20 attempting to explain TikTok to its viewers. — EB
The Journalist’s Resource has an inside baseball look at how a Florida paper reported out a predictive policing yarn. Tampa Bay Times reporters Kathleen McGrory and Neil Bedi made waves last fall with a multi-part investigation into the actions of the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office, a pre-crime initiative that ended up being “a system to continuously monitor and harass Pasco County residents,” they reported in September of 2020. [“Pretty sure Pasco County was one of the areas that participated in Live PD, so this isn’t surprising somehow.” — SDB]
It’s a great set of very longreads; you can find part one here and part two here, and all their subsequent coverage and reporting (there’s A LOT) here.
It was a mammoth, year-long task, and now Bedi (McGrory’s on maternity leave) has a breakdown of how the pair used academic research to get the story out. Like I said, this is inside baseball stuff — but it’s also a really solid look into some great editorial practices. Think of the “Targeted” series as the feature, and this Journalist’s Resource story as the (I’m dating myself) DVD extras. — EB
Paramount Plus ran an old interview with Woody Allen for the first time last week. According to Variety, the streaming platform ran an interview between Allen and CBS News correspondent Lee Cowan that took place nearly a year ago, a conversation that was “was held and released on the heels of the March 14 conclusion of the four-part HBO docuseries Allen v. Farrow.”
According to Allen spokesperson/sister Letty Aronson, “when the cbs morning show was taped we were told it was about his career and book,” but in the end, if was part of a
35-minute program, packaged with Gayle King’s 2018 interview with Dylan Farrow from CBS This Morning, [and] also includes a new segment from Sunday Morning correspondent Erin Moriarty about how art should be evaluated when artists have been accused of reprehensible behavior. The centerpiece interview with Allen is mostly a rehash of the arguments that the director, now 85, has made in his defense since the allegation went public when Dylan was 7.
In the interview, Allen says that “It’s so preposterous, and yet the smear has remained and they still prefer to cling to if not the notion that I molested Dylan, then the possibility that I molested her … Nothing that I ever did with Dylan in my life could be misconstrued as that.”
As now packaged with the other content, Aronson says the program is “completely dishonest and scandalous. I hope future people will consider this before trusting the show.” Other outlets, like the Hollywood Reporter, have also posed questions about how the show tackles the allegations against Allen, writing, “Normally, an exclusive interview of that nature would be a significant booking, given the renewed accusations of abuse by Dylan Farrow. However, CBS ended up letting the interview sit on the shelf, until now.” According to THR, “while it isn't unusual for interviews to be held for a month or longer given the tight packaging of CBS Sunday Morning segments, normally pieces that don't air after a few months of filming never air at all.”
This link to the interview should work for logged-in Paramount Plus users; otherwise, just search for Sunday Morning and the episode should be listed. — EB
ABC just dropped a new podcast about the Tulsa Race Massacre. ABC News Senior National Correspondent Steve Osunsami hosts Soul of a Nation: Tulsa’s Buried Truth, which contains “archival audio accounts from witnesses and interviews with historians, per its press release. It’s available on most podcast platforms, with new episodes dropping every Tuesday. You can find all the relevant links to listen and subscribe here. — EB
Wednesday on Best Evidence: Sarah, on polygamy.