SITCOMS ON A WHOLE NEW LEVEL
The goals of television are beyond mere entertainment. It sometimes warps reality into adventure, comedy or romance and provides us with a new way at looking at things. Recently several high-profile, multi-episode true crime documentaries have come out, giving us new glimpses into stories and people we thought we knew.
LEAVING NEVERLAND (HBO)
HBO has long been the place to find world-shattering, compelling documentaries, like the Edward Snowden-centered Citizenfour and the masterpiece The Jinx. Leaving Neverland, the two-part film courting worldwide attention and controversy for its look at two men alleging new charges of molestation against the late pop star Michael Jackson, is great television.
Through the Dan Reed documentary's interviews with Wade Robson and James Safechuck and the accompanying Oprah Winfrey special, Leaving Neverland delves into the emotional and uncomfortable aspects of childhood sexual abuse, investigates how such matters are psychologically complicated and explains how abusers can frequently manipulate their victims into self-blame and secret keeping. The show helps you understand how abuse can affect children and families long-term by corrupting ideas of what love and trust look like.
Also, regarding Jackson himself, Leaving Neverland makes it impossible to view him without tarnish or, at least, skepticism ever again. Even the Jackson family's official stance on what happened with these children is questionable, where the man shared a bed with them while parents were elsewhere. The documentary includes faxed love notes and purchased jewelry to young boys, and it also includes graphic, unsettling descriptions of sexual activity.
Coming away from it, you are left with many questions, even doubts, but it educates, through a look at one of the most famous people to ever live, about how such abuse can happen and continue in households ever¬†where.
LORENA (Amazon Prime)
Shining a light on one of the most famous tabloid stories ever, Jordan Peele executive produced and Joshua Rofe directed this series that re-examines the case of Lorena Bobbitt, the Virginia military wife who sliced off her husband John's penis. Lorena investigates the history of abuse and sexual assault she alleges led to the incident.
The series features interviews with both Bobbitts, detailing their versions of the 1993 event, and others involved with the initial investigation, trials and media circus. Lorena teaches viewers a new perspective on a story that once fascinated the world, giving the woman at its center a more sympathetic view years after her horrific act. It also shows how narrow the scope of the trials were.
Documentaries should always do this, delving equally into information and¬†feeling.
THE CASE AGAINST ADNAN SYED (HBO)
The newest HBO documentary series investigates the 1999 murder of Baltimore teen Hae Min Lee, a case that reached pop culture prominence through the podcast Serial in 2014.
Lee's ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed was convicted of Lee's murder 20 years ago, though his guilt has remained in question even after Serial and other researchers have uncovered new evidence about the case. Calls for a new trial have been approved, then reversed, in courts in the years since the case became¬†popular.
The new documentary, unfortunately, covers mostly old ground with the case. Everything it does in rehashing the narrative has largely already been featured and dissected in Serial and other podcasts. Detailing what has happened since Serial though interesting, does not justify the length of this show's runtime. Including diary entries from the victim do not give us a sense of who she was or connect us to her feelings in the way filmmakers intend.
If you want to know about this case, this documentary is not the place to start. Go listen to Serial.