Ready for a new true-crime doc to watch? Here are 6 you shouldn’t miss
TV critic Lorraine Ali is one of the biggest true-crime buffs on The Times TV team, having covered everything from Netflix’s “Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel” to HBO’s “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark.” And nothing marks the change of the seasons like coming in from the summer sun and curling up inside all autumn watching documentaries about humans’ dastardly deeds.
Here, she offers a sampling of the films and series to keep an eye on this fall if you can’t get enough true crime.
“Cold Justice” (Oxygen, now airing)
Now in its sixth season, Oxygen’s highest-rated series continues to travel to small towns across the country tackling unsolved homicide cases that have languished for years without answers or justice for the victims and their families. Veteran prosecutor Kelly Siegler and her rotating crew of seasoned detectives — Steve Spingola, Tonya Rider and Abbey Abbondandolo — partner with local authorities to compile and uncover enough compelling evidence for an arrest and conviction. To date, the team has successfully helped bring about 49 arrests and 21 convictions. The Dick Wolf-produced true-crime series never fails to turn up astounding oversights in cases where police departments are small and the murder victims are economically depressed. A must-watch staple of the true-crime genre.
“Reasonable Doubt” (ID Channel, now airing)
She’s a criminal defense attorney. He’s a retired homicide detective. Together, Fatima Silva and Chris Anderson make up the team behind “Reasonable Doubt,” ID’s weekly half-hour forensic investigative series that seeks to uncover the truth behind contested convictions. The duo use their collective expertise, and plenty of outside resources, to reexamine murder cases at the request of families and advocates who believe the wrong person is behind bars.
The series, which wraps up its fourth season Sept. 20 and will be available to stream on Discovery+ Sept. 21, often focuses on the cases of convicts who don’t have the resources to employ their own private detectives or non-court-appointed defense attorneys to clear their names. Silva and Anderson review the evidence with law enforcement and witnesses familiar with the case and consult with outside forensic teams and experts before coming to their own conclusions. Is there a realistic chance for an appeal, or do the supporters of the incarcerated need to face the crushing truth that their loved one may have been rightfully convicted of murder? The duo help the emotionally stuck families of the convicted move on, one way or another.
“Monsters Inside: The 24 Faces of Billy Milligan” (Netflix, Sept. 22)
In 1978, Billy Milligan became the first person in U.S. history to cite multiple personality disorder in an insanity defense. But were his multiple personalities really controlling his actions, or were they simply the pretext of a dangerous, narcissistic sociopath? Netflix’s four-part investigative series revisits those questions, and the crimes of the rapist who terrorized Ohio State University before his arrest and made subsequent claims that he had no memory of the assaults. French film director Olivier Megaton (“Taken 2" and “3") applies a cinematic lens to the docuseries format as he follows the Milligan family, friends, doctors and law enforcement who are still trying to understand Milligan’s state of mind at the time of his alleged crimes and at trial.
A litany of psychiatrists diagnosed Milligan, who was in his 20s when he was accused, with “multiple personality disorder” (known now as dissociative identity disorder). They determined he had as many as 24 distinct “multiples,” which led a jury to find Milligan innocent by reason of insanity. The landmark verdict rocked the criminal justice system, and its repercussions are still being debated today.
The Times TV team picks the series we’re most looking forward to this season.
Buried (Showtime, Oct. 10)
How reliable is the human memory? Dependable enough to convict someone of murder decades after a crime? “Buried” follows the gripping story of Eileen Franklin, who, while playing with her young daughter, suddenly had a memory of witnessing the 1969 rape and murder of her childhood best friend, 8-year-old Susan Nason, in their hometown of Foster City, Calif. It led to the reopening of the 20-year-old cold case, and in a shocking twist, Franklin remembered that the culprit was her own father, George Franklin.
Armed with Eileen’s story, San Mateo County prosecutors won a conviction in 1990, sentencing George to life in prison. It was a first. Never before had recovered memory been used in a criminal prosecution. The docuseries follows the consequences of that fateful decision via the first-person testimonials of family, neighbors, memory experts and law enforcement and mental health professionals, exploring the questions it sparked about the accuracy and reliability of “repressed memory,” especially when applied to traumatic events. The impact of Eileen Franklin’s recollection on the legal and mental health communities is a drama unto itself and even overshadows the horrific crime that precipitated this decades-old family/courtroom saga.
“Frontline: American Reckoning” (PBS, November TBA)
The 1967 murder of NAACP leader Wharlest Jackson Sr. in Natchez, Miss., and a family’s search for answers are at the heart of this documentary from “Frontline’s” Un(re)solved initiative, a project that investigates civil rights-era cold-case killings. From acclaimed directors Brad Lichtenstein and Yoruba Richen, the film chronicles the journey of Jackson’s family as they search for the truth about what happened to Jackson, combining vérité footage, interviews, extensive reporting and never-before-seen archival material. His death from a car bomb is one of more than 150 murders investigated under the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act, signed into law in 2008 in an effort to solve the killings of those who were never given justice. The FBI interviewed several hundred people in its investigation into Jackson’s death, but no one was ever prosecuted and the case was ultimately closed.
Now, collaborating with Concordia Sentinel journalist Stanley Nelson, the filmmakers interview experts and witnesses and look into allegations of the involvement of a Ku Klux Klan offshoot, the Silver Dollar Group. The film gives context to today’s racial reckoning, and how far we have to go to heal the wounds — and right the wrongs — of America’s violent past.
“The Slow Hustle” (HBO, TBA)
Veteran Baltimore police detective Sean Suiter is found shot dead while on duty. Was it murder, suicide or a hit ordered from within his own department? Directed by “The Wire” star Sonja Sohn, who also delivered the gripping 2017 doc “Baltimore Rising,” “The Slow Hustle” explores the shady circumstances around Suiter’s death and uncovers a scandal replete with corrupt cops, multiple coverups and a failed political system.
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