The cycle of true crime is moving from podcasts and documentaries to prime time re-enactments.
We've entered the next stage of the true crime phenomenon.
While podcasts like Serial fueled the first wave of investigative content and docuseries like Making a Murderer made true crime bingeable, true crime dramas like Dirty John re-enact criminal plots so bizarre they have to be seen to be believed. 2019 will be flush with new podcasts and docuseries, but Netflix, Hulu, and TNT will also take on the challenge of artfully dramatizing real-life crime stories without looking like Lifetime Movie Network rejects.
Here are 7 true crime series worth giving a chance:
1. Conversations with a Killer: Ted Bundy Tapes (Netflix, January 24)
Netflix's upcoming docuseries will feature previously unreleased interviews with Ted Bundy conducted during his time on death row. Mixed with archival footage that traces his criminal rise in the 70s, Conversations with a Killer will be released on the 30th anniversary of Bundy's execution.
2. I Am the Night (TNT, January 28)
Chris Pine and director Patty Jenkins (Wonder Woman) helm this period drama about the unsolved murder of Elizabeth Short, infamously remembered as the Black Dahlia. While the six-episode series takes plenty of creative liberties, Jenkins was close friends with the real-life figure the series is structured around, Fauna Hodel.
3. The Act (Hulu, March 20)
Oscar and Emmy Award winner Patricia Arquette will star in the debut season of Hulu's true crime anthology series, The Act. Each season is slated to explore one story that shocked the true crime circuit with its bizarre nature. Season 1 will feature the murder of Dee Dee Blanchard (played by Arquette) by her daughter Gypsy and the lifetime of abuse and manipulations that preceded it.
4. Unsolved Mysteries (Netflix, TBA)
The classic 1987 true crime and paranormal series is being revived by the executive producer of Stranger Things. The upcoming 12-part series will re-enact one real unsolved crime or phenomenon in each episode.
5. Interrogation (CBS All Access, TBA)
Peter Sarsgaard will star in this nonlinear true crime series that spans over 30 years. The 10 episodes are based on real police interrogations about a young man who was charged and convicted of brutally murdering his mother. The network is concealing the name of the real case the series is based on, but the goal of Interrogation is to turn the viewer into a detective as the crime unfolds.
6. Central Park Five (Netflix, TBA)
Netflix is taking on this infamous case of five black teenagers falsely accused and forced to confess to the rape and assault of a female jogger in 1989. The four-episode series will feature Vera Farmiga as the lead prosecutor and Michael K. Williams and John Leguizamo as two of the boys' fathers.
7. Uncertain Terms (TCPalm podcast, January 2019)
This new true crime podcast tackles the issue of children who are convicted of murder and the adults they become while incarcerated. Specifically, the podcast explores Florida convicts who have grown up in prison and are facing re-sentencing or release, depending on the details of their crimes, how the victims' families feel, and who they've become.
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"Black Is King" is now out on Disney+.
Beyoncé has released Black Is King, and as usual, her work is subtly shifting the world and inspiring millions.
The musical film dropped today on Disney+. It's a visual companion to 2019's The Lion King: The Gift, an album inspired by last year's remake of The Lion King, in which Beyoncé starred as Nala. The moment it released at 12AM PT, fans lost it with excitement.
BEYONCÉ SAVED MY LIFE. #BlackIsKing https://t.co/SY3S5kZsij— 𝓒𝓮𝓬𝓮☾ (@𝓒𝓮𝓬𝓮☾)1596226052.0
Black Is King is rooted in Black history. "History is your future," Beyoncé says prophetically toward the beginning. "One day you will meet yourself back where you started, but stronger." The film is studded with references to African history, portraying the lives of African royalty.
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Dirty John is incredibly frustrating, but quality actresses make an unbelievable survival story seem all too realistic on screen.
This week's pipeline from true crime to entertainment culminated with the finale of Bravo's Dirty John, which aired Sunday.
While the miniseries is not the first podcast to be adapted to television (HBO's 2 Dope Queens and Amazon's Lore and Homecoming are notable examples that predated it), the show marked the first true crime-turned-podcast-turned-TV-drama. Based off the #1 podcast of the same name, the eight-episode first season features Connie Britton giving a painfully believable portrayal of real-life mother Debra Newell, a highbrow interior designer and four-time divorcee in her late 50s. While she thinks she's met the perfect man online, Dr. John Meehan (Eric Bana) soon reveals himself to be a conman and unrepentant asshole with a penchant for mood swings, drug binges, and entreaties for forgiveness—which Debra grants, again and again.
Created by Alexandra Cunningham and directed by Jeffrey Reiner, the show excels in its depiction of sheltered Californian socialites. Debra is portrayed as a blind optimist who resists the reality of John's physical and emotional threats to her family, despite glaring red flags such as threats to shoot her daughter in the head and his escalating possessiveness over her—and her finances. Additionally, Debra endlessly coddles her two adult daughters, Veronica and Terra, entitled millennials played by Juno Temple and Julia Garner, respectively. Both girls are very privileged, very blonde, and very distrusting of the new man in their mother's life. Most apparent in all three women's performances is that Britton, Temple, and Garner even capture the child-like vocal fry of the real-life Newell women, whose voices feature in the Dirty John podcast.
Temple, in particular, excels as the brash and abrasive older daughter whose genuine concern is muddled with her elitist offense that a lower class outsider has insinuated himself in her family's inner world of designer bags and luxury penthouses. In contrast, Garner's performance as the younger daughter is kept intentionally low key and peculiarly infantile.
However, for the finale, the show doesn't hold back in re-enacting John Meehan's knife-wielding attack and attempted abduction of Terra Newell, the family member whom we're led to believe is the weakest and most vulnerable. Here, the show's greatest gamble is hinging the entire climax on the subtleties of Terra's personality, which suddenly manifests as a self-assertive and independent survivor—who stabs her attacker 13 times in the parking lot outside her apartment, rather than be dragged into the trunk of his car. The transformation is almost unbelievable—except that part actually happened. In 2016, the real John Meehan died of his injuries in the parking lot where he attacked her. The real Newell girls even suspected that John would target Terra, believing her to be weak. In the show, Garner's nuanced performance is what makes an unbelievable survival story seem believable on TV in a triumph of fight-or-flight instinct.
As for the real Debra Newell, she wanted her story told as a cautionary tale of the perils of both online dating and blind devotion. She commented on the series, "It's a story to tell others to make them aware of what could happen to them. You almost have to remove yourself a little bit." In her personal life, Debra still calls herself "a naturally happy person," but it took the tools of time, therapy, and the removed sense of media to see her story clearly. She said, "[Therapy] had so much to do with being able to be healthy again. I had a lot of guilt at one point. I had to learn [the mechanics of] what had happened to me." But she's a fan of Connie Britton's portrayal. Debra praises, "She got my voice and my mannerisms down perfectly. I was in a dangerous situation, and there wasn't a lot of opportunity for Connie to show the lighter side of me — I'm not always that nice or serious!"
Debra and Terra NewellToday Show
Yet, the show isn't exactly sympathetic towards Debra. To be clear, Dirty John is incredibly frustrating. But that's largely due to the incensing nature of the late Meeham's crimes and manipulations. His history of deception, impersonation, and conning every woman in his life (including his own family members) is perhaps the heaviest focus of the series. Debra, the character, is less important; her previous marriages aren't explored, while her naivety often is, and her family's Southern Californian ethos gives off plenty of Mean Girl vibes to provide comic relief. Above all, her initial refusal to doubt John is frank and infuriating, but it's primer for the show's midpoint climax; Debra's conflict foreshadows her decision to take John back even after her family presents proof of his elaborate lies, which include wearing stolen scrubs every day to allege he's a doctor and waxing morose about traumatic deployments in Iraq despite never serving in the military.
Dirty John is a concrete depiction of how unexpectedly, eerily enthralling it is to be under someone's "coercive control." One of the reasons the podcast garnered over 33 million listeners in the first place is because of how relatable Debra's experience is. Because of course Debra didn't think of herself as a vulnerable target. "Remember," she said in an interview after this week's finale, "it's Hollywood. First of all, I don't feel desperate. I think that it's very natural to want to have a companion and to be in love." She reflected, "It really helped relieve me, to some degree, knowing that it is such a common thing, unfortunately. But I now know what happened to me and that it could happen to anyone."
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