Quickfire round: American Murder: The Family Next Door

Despite its forgettable title (is it American Family: The Murder Nextdoor? Or America Nextdoor: The Family Murder? Neither!) this documentary uses incredible original footage to tell the chilling story of how, and why, Shannan Watts and her two children were cruelly murdered.

One person in this photo escaped death. Can you guess who it was?

I’ll start off by saying that this documentary shows how far we’ve come with technology in our society that it is able to tell the story in such a coherent manner with absolutely no voice-over and only first-hand footage (from police body cams and interview rooms, neighbours, news crews, text messages, and Shannan herself).

This method of telling the story makes it all the more terrifying. We start out with police body cam footage – after Shannan’s friend and colleague called the police, concerned for her whereabouts as she wasn’t responding to texts. The footage – otherwise entirely routine – immediately captures a scene of confusion and mystery as Shannan – and her two young children – are nowhere to be seen. Her phone is there and switched off, but the children’s blankets are gone. Her husband, Chris Watts, raced back from work at a remote oil well, and seems distracted as he speaks to officers about the last time he saw his wife alive and who – or where – she could have gone to.

Incredibly, the documentary also features Shannan herself. She was a prolific Facebook user, recording and posting footage of family moments almost daily. What a juxtaposition these happy videos of her and her husband are to the text messages she was exchanging with her friends and colleagues shortly before her death – telling a story of how her husband had become distant and uninterested in her.

I think I know what makes the documentary so gripping. The Facebook videos and text messages are all pre-death, of course. And the police footage is post-death. We therefore see the story unravel from two perspectives – Shannan’s, as she hurtles towards her murder, and the police, as they piece everything together. Everything is revealed in sync with each other – the text messages become more surreal and desperate as the police interviews become more dramatic and revealing. It’s great storytelling, if incredibly tragic.

If you like true crime, you absolutely don’t want to miss this.

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Back for more: Good Girls (Season 3)

The Breaking Bad meets suburban-housewives dark comedy is back for a third season which takes it in a slightly different direction, although fans of the first two seasons surely won’t be disappointed.

Never a dull moment in the lives of these three.

It looks like everything has gone back to a relative normal for the three working mums following the drama of the last season. Beth is a shop assistant at a greetings cards business who press their own designs. Annie is a shop attendant and moonlights as a valet, bringing in lots of single dollar bills. And Ruby puts up with rude customers at a nail salon.

Hold on a minute. A printing press, lots of dollar bills, and access to solvents… uh oh. The girls haven’t retired from a life of crime, in fact, they’re working on perfecting their fake money printing scheme. Free from the harsh oversight of crime master Rio, they’re looking to run their own illegitimate enterprise. However, as inventive as they are, it doesn’t take long for them to get taken advantage of by the more bone-headed type of criminal.

The show continues its winning formula of heartwarming family issues, quick-witted humour and surreal violence all wrapped up in Breaking Bad style suburban criminality. This season we get to see more of a focus on Ruby’s deteriorating relationship with Stan and her kids, which is interesting as I’d pointed out in my review of Season 2 that we weren’t seeing enough of that family. Sadly I can’t take any credit for the shift as the third season was already airing in the US when I wrote it.

If you like Good Girls and its rather absurd premise, you’ll certainly like the third season. For newcomers, don’t start here. There’s too much backstory you’re missing out on.

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What I thought about: Mary Kills People (Seasons 1-3)

Thought-provoking and dramatic, if a little rough around the edges, this drama about a doctor who assists suicide whilst balancing home and work life and being under constant peril from police investigation, is a great watch for fans of shows like Dexter.

Des, looking confused as ever.

What’s it about?
Dr Mary Harris is a doctor who saves people. She also kills people. You see, Mary thinks people should be in control of their death as much as they are of their life. Some of the patients at her hospital, referred to her by nursing colleague Annie, are facing terminal illness, and are usually in pain or will deteriorate to such a point. Because of that, they want to go sooner rather than later. Mary issues a fatal dose of pentobarbital, a sedative sometimes used to execute prisoners when carrying out the death penalty.

Of course, what Mary’s doing is illegal* and only a select few countries, such as Switzerland, allow you to die with the assistance of someone else. Mary, together with her business partner and former plastic surgeon Des, therefore pose as end-of-life counsellors and meet discretely with patients. The series arc sees an undercover police investigation to catch Mary in the act. Let’s just say it doesn’t go according to plan.

What do I like about it?
First up, it’s got that consistent pacing I love in US dramas. Yes, there’s a wider series plot, but the show doesn’t get swallowed up in it. This is gonna sound weird, but every episode is Death Guaranteed. A new person, a new story, every single time. It helps to build the thought-provoking piece of the show as you learn about the different conditions and reasons why people might want to end their lives in this way.

Next, there are some nice side plots. Mary is a real doctor and also a (divorced) mother of two children, so it’s a lot to juggle and can get quite chaotic. The elder daughter, Jess, is friends with Naomi, a troubled teenager often left alone while her lawyer mother is away on business. Naomi gets jealous of Jess’ relationships and throughout the show she spirals further and further out of control. Gripping in its own right.

What do I not like about it?
In a word: Des. He is terrible. He is weird. His British accent is… questionable. He is misery. He is pain. He is weak. I kind of get it, but at the same time I kind of wish they’d put in a side character who is mostly free from those attributes.

Des sums up the show’s occasionally shabby edges, another of which is their unrealistic portrayal of police investigations.

Worth a watch?
I binged this thing hard. If you don’t mind the philosophical issues and you like the typical American black comedy style, then absolutely.

By the way…

  • *The show is set in Canada, where assisted suicide was illegal until the law changed during filming of the third season, which means it technically doesn’t make any sense now.
  • I have to give credit to Katie Douglas for a particularly standout performance as Naomi.

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Back for more: How to Sell Drugs Online (Fast) (Season 2)

The teenage drug kingpin is back. MyDrugs has become a national hit, and Moritz has developed an online persona, m1000, to carry that fame anonymously. With an expanding business, he faces new challenges – especially as his friends and accomplices want out.

Who knew to sell drugs you had to befriend a bunch of Albanians and go hunting?

This season was a nice continuation of the first, and I must have watched it all in under 48 hours. So, yes, it’s just as gripping as before. Moritz is pressing ahead with his business, aided by his friends (read: suppliers) from the Netherlands, who encourage the expansion and even ask Moritz to develop a front to keep control of his operations.

The show also continues to nail the more technical aspects of the plot. For example, new character Lena (whom Lenny has been catfishing since Season 1) is revealed to be a travelling con artist, blackmailing businessmen in hotels across region by hooking them into her fake ‘Free Hotel Wi-Fi’, an act that allows her to view their browsing activity and even remotely record their webcam while they… you know what. This is a very real possibility and a good lesson to be careful about joining any public / unsecured Wi-Fi networks, especially without the use of a VPN to encrypt your browsing.

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, though. Moritz struggles to balance his schoolwork, drugs business, and relationship with his girlfriend Lisa, whom he is desperately trying to keep safe from any knowledge of his activities. There might even be the return of a certain Albanian drugs gang looking for answer about how one of their own killed themselves with a certain someone’s 3D-printed gun…

It looks like this show is going to be renewed for a third season, and I’m all for it. The production values are fantastic and I love the attention to detail shown to the technical aspects of the show.

As always, watch in German and turn subtitles in if you need to.

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What I thought about: Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich

Convicted sex offender, Jeffrey Epstein, made headlines last year after he was charged with additional sex offences and then killed himself (*allegedly). What I’d never understood was who he really was and what he did to land him in jail and, ultimately, wind up dead. This powerful docuseries explains all.

Sarah Ransome recalling the moment she tried to swim to safety from Epstein’s private island

What’s it about?
Through interviews with ex-business associates, people who worked on his ‘paedophile island’, police chiefs and lawyers who worked on the case, and even Epstein’s own lawyer Alan Dershowitz, the story of Jeffrey Epstein’s criminal history is told. Above all of these people should sit Epstein’s victims, and we hear many of them tell their story in this series.

We learn where Epstein came from, and that he’s always been a manipulative liar. He started out as a school teacher, having lied about his degree (he didn’t have one) to get the job. From there, well, it was just a trail of deceit and crookery. The one thing the documentary isn’t able to tell you is exactly how he made his money, besides the vague notion that he managed other people’s money (and the assertion that, in some cases, he stole it).

What makes for more uncomfortable watching is the history of Epstein’s underage sex offences. With the help of his partner, British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell (who has now been arrested & charged with a litany of crimes), he lured underaged girls to his Palm Beach mansion, offering them money in return for a massage which often turned into non-consensual intercourse – in other words, he raped them. There were apparently hundreds of victims, it’s really quite horrific.

What do I like about it?
It’s not really appropriate to say I ‘liked’ this documentary. I do however think it’s important to watch. You feel a sense of outrage at Epstein’s ability to evade capture and, even when he was convicted of a numbed-down charge of soliciting a minor for prostitution in 2008, how his prison sentence was a joke and he was able to do whatever he wanted.

In some ways we can draw parallels to the shocking Abducted in Plain Sight documentary. Both men managed to manipulate others into letting them do whatever they wanted – and in both cases this lead to the sexual assault of minors.

What do I not like about it?
Overall it is a solid documentary, but some more rigid structure would have been a bit better. We kept jumping up and down the timeline, which was at times difficult to keep up with,

Worth a watch?
It’s not going to be an easy watch for some people, but if you were ever curious about the true scale of Epstein’s crimes then you need to watch this.

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