Recently, I subscribed to HBO Now for a month in order to watch the new documentary that I wrote about last time, The Case Against Adnan Syed. Having now seen all four episodes of that documentary, I still think that it is a high-quality, interesting docuseries, but ultimately it does not do enough breaking down of the information for the big revelations found by investigators to really hit home. In that way, it undercuts its own effectiveness and I found myself more interested in the podcasts I was listening to alongside each episode: True Crime Obsessed, Crime Writers On…, and Undisclosed. Signing up for that month of HBO Now, however, gave me access to far more outstanding programming than I could possibly watch in a month.
For those who like The Case Against Adnan Syed, you might also be interested in The Night Of, a crime drama about Nasir Khan (Riz Ahmed), a young New Yorker picked up for a murder he may or may not have committed. The miniseries follows Khan’s descent into the world of crime during his time at Riker’s Island and attorney John Stone (John Turturro) as he tries to free him. The characters are well-developed and quirky and the series moves along at a good clip, even if it sometimes meanders down some side streets.
In the world of true crime, HBO features documentaries such as Mommy Dead and Dearest, Beware the Slenderman and their new production The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley.
Whereas Mommy Dead and Dearest and Beware the Slenderman are passible documentaries about fascinating true crime cases, The Inventor was the highlight of the true crime catalog for me. Directed by Acadamy Award winner, Alex Gibney, The Inventor tells of the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes and her mostly fraudulent company, Theranos. The documentary dramatically tells of how college-dropout Holmes fashioned herself after Steve Jobs and set out to change the world with a medical technology her professors told her literally could never work. Holmes charmed her way into billions of dollars of funding until the house of cards started to fall around her. Gibney tells the story so that it is easy to follow, but also guides the audience through all the weird twists and heightened drama Holmes brought to the company.
During my month of HBO access, I also attempted to watch the controversial documentary Leaving Neverland, which features Jimmy Safechuck and Wade Robson telling their hauntingly similar stories of how they suffered sexual abuse from Michael Jackson over the course of years when they were little boys. I personally only made it through part one of the documentary because I found it very troubling. The production quality is outstanding and the story is compelling, but the story is very graphic and upsetting, so it may not be for everyone. It hurt my soul to watch.
I closed out my month by watching Sharp Objects, HBO’s adaptation of the best-selling Gillian Flynn novel. With a gritty aesthetic and a grim, slow-burning tone similar to True Detective, Sharp Objects features Amy Adams as Camille Preaker, a reporter sent back to her small hometown to report on the murder of two teenage girls. Going home means confronting her own demons, including her eccentric mother, Adora (Patricia Clarkson) and half-sister Amma (Eliza Scanlen), as well as going toe-to-toe with Detective Richard Willis (Chris Messina) as she tries to get a scoop on the case. The award-winning performances are by far the strongest part of this miniseries. The pacing of the story and the use of flashbacks made the series rather plodding. I read the book and knew the ending, so seeing how things came together held my attention, but the people watching with me were having a hard time following the first two episodes. Nevertheless, the quality of the cinematography and the grisly story give the series a lot of punch.
Another perk of HBO Now was access to a huge catalog of movies. For example, over her spring break, my husband and I introduced my sister to the joy of The Mighty Ducks. She did not have quite the same level of joy that we had at the experience, but from where I’m sitting, that 1992 movie holds up.