Vincent Chin · Fall River · Confronting: Columbine

Plus: Is VH1 trying to eat Reelz's lunch?

VH1 is adding a true-crime series to its weekly lineup. For eight episodes, Infamy: When Fame Turns Deadly will look at “celebrity cases where notoriety and fame turn fatal”; hosted by Monica — yep, that one! — the series premieres June 7.

Cases featured this season include the murder of NBA player Lorenzen Wright and the investigation of his shocking death; hip-hop artist on the rise Young Greatness, who was gunned down under mysterious circumstances in his hometown of New Orleans; a runway model found dead at the bottom of a swimming pool; and a popular Chicago radio personality targeted by someone nobody could expect.

There’s probably some joke here about “The Boy Is Mine” and receipt of stolen property, but I can’t get at it. Instead, I’ll observe that I:WFTD sounds in the main like any of a half-dozen other properties focusing on the outré demises of famosos (Reelz) and/or hosted by music personages (In Ice Cold Blood) — or, and here’s the big one, that already exist in the form of a deep, and already beloved, catalog in VH1’s possession and rhyme with Spehind The Flusic. I feel like I either make or witness about a complaint a week that Behind The Music isn’t available in its marathonnable entirety on a streaming service — quarantine hay someone could have made, but it’s now just going to sit in the field while we pray that YouTube doesn’t yank the ones we can watch — and while 1) rebooting that franchise has had mixed-to-corny results and 2) they’d have to stretch the brief close to snapping to get athletes and models to fit into it, people would watch it; people would watch the hell out of the old ones; and idk, just call it “rock culture” and then any celeb who ever went to a live show qualifies.

But there’s a reason they don’t let me program networks, so I’ll just set my DVR for Infamy (…hee) and hope it’s good. Anyone hopeful about this one, or do you also suspect it’s an enh built from spare parts? — SDB

Amazon has greenlit a limited series on the Vincent Chin case. Our esteemed contributor Susan Howard took a look at a documentary on Chin’s murder back in early 2020, as part of an overview of overlooked Best Doc nominees in the true-crime genre:

Who Killed Vincent Chin? starkly demonstrates how little the language of jingoism has changed in the last four decades. With hate crimes on the rise in the United States and the unrelenting “otherizing” of some populations that starts at our country’s very top,

Susan found Who Killed Vincent Chin? affecting and relevant — and this was before the rising wave of anti-Asian hate crimes that, per Variety, may have prompted development on the limited series to pick up speed. No title or proposed date for the series as of yet, but “Destin Daniel Cretton, known for ‘Just Mercy’ and ‘Short Term 12,’ has been tapped to direct and exec produce the series,” so I’m already looking forward to it.

Gemma Chan is also producing a podcast and film based on Chin’s story, with the podcast consisting of a table read of the film’s script — an unusual imagining of the form that I find quite intriguing. That table read is set to take place this month.

For more on the case and why it’s a civil-rights litigation landmark, here’s an NPR interview from March with author Paula Yoo, whose book From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry: The Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial That Galvanized the Asian American Movement came out a few weeks ago from W.W. Norton. — SDB

Epix docuseries Fall River premieres Sunday, and it’s difficult going at times — not least because it’s yet another Satanic-panic story. Fall River, MA is of course best known for the still-technically-unsolved murders of Lizzie Borden’s father and stepmother, but in the late ’70s and early ’80s it seemed like a serial murderer might be at work among the very young and functionally unhomed sex workers of the city. Trouble is, law enforcement didn’t listen to living victims, picked the wrong guy to hang one of the murders on, and decided the motive was a devil cult. Sigh. Fall River can be harrowing, in part because

When the women tried to report what happened, police didn't care. Their parents, absent for whatever reason, didn't care. The testimony is important for them to share and for us to hear, because this of course is the dark heart of Fall River, the real story: that local law enforcement preferred to focus on "satanic" aspects of the crime and on performatively addressing a non-problem rather than the fact that abuse and neglect pushed every single central figure in the Carl Drew case onto the streets and into the paths of predators.

That’s from my review on Primetimer; you can read the rest here, in which I also spend some time lamenting Epix’s “visibility issues” (which are probably more of a problem for middle-aged cord-keepers like me; you younguns probably got their app situation knocked a year ago). As I said, some stern stuff over four episodes, but I do recommend the series. The cheapskates in the group can wait a month, then get the Epix free trial and binge it. — SDB

Every day is a “get the free trial and binge it” proposition here at Best Evidence, kind of — but if you want extra reviews and content, a subscription is just $5 a month! It lets us pay fine contribs like Susan, who’s working on a vintage-Edgars series as we speak, and subscribe to premium channels and streamers, so we can tell you ahead of time which miniseries to watch or skip.

Subscribing now lets you wander the entire archive — and May’s going to feature TWO bonus reviews (at least!), so grab your all-access pass now. — SDB

The crime
On April 20, 1999, seniors Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered 12 students and a teacher — Cassie Bernall, 17; Steven Curnow, 14; Corey DePooter, 17; Kelly Fleming, 16; Matthew Kechter, 16; Daniel Mauser, 15; Daniel Rohrbough, 15; William "Dave" Sanders, 47; Rachel Scott, 17; Isaiah Shoels, 18; John Tomlin, 16; Lauren Townsend, 18, and Kyle Velasquez, 16 — at their high school, Columbine High, in Littleton, CO.

The story
Wondery debuted the second installment of its Confronting podcast series last week, with the first two episodes of Confronting: Columbine (for the general public, that is; Wondery+ members got the entire season at once, I believe). Hosted by Columbine survivor Amy Over, with assistance from journalist Nancy Glass, Confronting: Columbine

takes on one of the most prolific tragedies in American history: the Columbine High School massacre. It was a devastating example of how easily a place of learning, familiarity and peace can descend into a war zone of chaos in a moment, the teenagers present that day are now adults who bear the mental and physical scars of the carnage they lived through. Amy Over, a Columbine survivor who is still living with its aftermath and raising her own children in its shadow, confronts many of the realities, questions and myths that surround the massacre to this day. Amy, through her own experience and by speaking with survivors, investigators, classmates, reporters on the scene and other important voices, brings a first-person account of the physical, emotional and spiritual journey that comes along with confronting the worst day of her life.

That description of the pod is from its Apple Podcasts landing page, and its turgid blandness is, alas, somewhat representative of the content — which is both a shame and a puzzlement. To say I’d “looked forward to” listening to Confronting’s second go-round is not accurate, as the experience of listening to Dave Cullen’s Columbine didn’t leave me for weeks, but I had found Confronting: OJ Simpson affecting, to a surprising degree, and I’ve spent a good week trying to figure out what worked for me about Kim Goldman’s analogous journey into the heart of her own trauma that isn’t gelling for me with Amy Over’s.

Part of it, I think, is that Goldman read to me as “my people” — furious, profane, in dire need of a cocktail — in a way that Over doesn’t, at least through the three eps I’ve listened to. Over has her own relatabilities for me (the anxiety; the witnessing of a globally traumatizing historical event from the ground) but isn’t as charismatic as Goldman, either; that isn’t her fault, and I don’t know if it’s making the critical difference, but it is throwing certain…“civilian narrative choices,” I guess, into starker relief. There’s a lot of walk-and-talk narration of where various witnesses or survivors were, which doesn’t exactly play in an audio medium; that’s not the primary point of it, of course, but it can land confusingly. And there’s a lot of telling vs. showing, which seems like an unfair critique of, uh, an audio medium, but what I mean is that segments like the recollections of then-principal Frank DeAngelis or the reading of memorial stones are set off with unnecessary scene-staging or “that’s so powerful” responses that just don’t…do much. The blundering towards, if not closure, then peace doesn’t need cleaning up on my account, and in fact it’s much of what made the OJ Simpson season compelling, the painful and pointed sewing in of loose ends in real time. As well, words usually fail in the face of a tragedy, never mind one of this size, which mostly befell (and was perpetrated by) children. But where Nancy Glass’s interstitial participation felt in the first season like more of a guidepost role, she’s having to do heavier lifting here, with a co-pilot who seems not quite as far down the road of managing her grief and PTSD as Goldman.

To clarify: this is not a criticism of Over. I don’t think she’s Doing It Wrong or Bad At This; she’s neither. She’s wrestling with a landmark massacre, her survivor’s guilt, her family of origin’s shitty response to her response, her resentment over what was taken from her and her feeling guilty about feeling that…it’s a lot, and she didn’t have to take us along for any of it, and she’s trying to shine light into corners the killers’ shadows have historically darkened. I respect that, and there is some striking tape here, of DeAngelis demanding to see the library a few days after the attack (“I need to know how my kids died”), of Sean Graves describing exactly what he did to make “playing dead” realistic enough for Klebold to step over him. The lack of polish, generally speaking vis-a-vis this series, is a feature, not a bug, and there’s a concerted effort made to de-center the killers as much as possible, and to celebrate the community and the lives lost and altered, and that plays exactly right.

But it all feels a little…I don’t know. Safe? Fearful? Again, ample reason for it to, and again, this is not a judgment, but the more I think about it, the more it seems like Kim Goldman was ready to let it all in — to confront, truly, everything, no matter how dark — in a way that Amy Over just…isn’t, yet. She thinks she is; she thinks she’s doing it; she may get there in future episodes, and the boil that is the mother/daughter relationship needs lancing, badly, and I have enormous compassion for her there, however it turns out on-mic. But there is a delicacy in the approach here that I understand, and at the same time don’t think quite succeeds narratively. A personal-narrative angle on a school shooting is by definition going to require different handling from Goldman’s situation, and that particular abundance of caution, whether it’s coming from Over or Wondery or whomever else, is understandable — and likely intractable. So perhaps this is the crux of it, then: that a mainstream property can only go so far in looking directly at, screaming directly at, a massacre of this sort. One human being trying to live her life, a life that has this in it like a root system, can only go so far towards turning herself inside out before something tells her to run away.

I’ll dip back into Confronting: Columbine in a month or so and see how it’s coming along for Over and her fellow survivors. For now, I can’t quite recommend it, but if you’ve listened to any/all of it and you have theories about its issues — or you think it’s great! — I’d love to hear from you. — SDB

Leave a comment

Thursday on Best Evidence: Holmes and DiCaprio? We’ll see what Eve comes up with.

What is this thing? This should help. Follow Best Evidence @bestevidencefyi on Twitter and Instagram. You can also call or text us any time at 919-75-CRIME.