“Annie and a Side of Fries” (YouTube). Just before she was a person with a TV show (Comedy Central’s “Broad City,” in which she co-stars with her longtime stage partner, Ilana Glazer, and which you should be watching), Abbi Jacobson created this splendid, bittersweet Web series. Posted on YouTube in 10 episodes of two or three minutes apiece, it purports to be the video blog -- I will not say “vlog” -- of an 11-year-old girl, recorded on the weekends she spends with her divorced father. (Annie would say vlog, however.) Very much in the spirit of Lily Tomlin’s Edith Ann and Gilda Radner’s Judy Miller, Jacobson’s Annie Leonard also might be the younger self of the adult character Jacobson plays on “Broad City” -- serious, optimistic, moral, observant, emotional, a little anxious. On an “official guided tour” of her room, she shows the places (all in the same shot) where she does sit ups (“You’ve got to be careful, you’re never too young to let yourself go”), where she goes to cry (“If I had a dollar for every time I cried just thinking about when Nate dies at the end of ‘Six Feet Under,’ I would have enough money to find a cure for arteriovenous malformation, otherwise known as AVN, which is what kills him in the first place”), and where she dances: “I dance when I’m nervous. I dance a lot. I dance before a big soccer game or before I’m going to a movie with a cute boy or before I record ‘Annie and a Side of Fries’ or before I switch houses. I will even dance before I go to a dance; dancing makes me nervous.”
There’s no sense of it being a stunt, or made to be cute. Jacobson just sits right inside Annie, who sits inside a room in which everything is represented by Jacobson’s own drawings. (Annie draws, too, and Jacobson’s divorced father lived, like Annie’s, in a place called Chesterbrook; “Annie” is an offshoot of a pilot she wrote based there.) Detailed and funny and also dramatically satisfying to a degree its form wouldn’t necessarily suggest, the series is a fine demonstration of how much may be accomplished in a short time and how rich a tapestry may be woven from small pieces, when every word and gesture is informed with a feeling for the real, and with love.
“Spies of Mississippi” (PBS, Monday). “There’s America, there’s the South and then there’s Mississippi,” Lyndon B. Johnson is quoted as saying in Dawn Porter’s documentary realization of Rick Bower’s book on the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, an instrument of domestic “intelligence” that sought to derail the anti-segregation and voting rights movement, with sometimes murderous results: The commission, which grew from a couple of operatives to “the Stasi of Mississippi,” gave information to the police, many of whose officers belonged to the Ku Klux Klan. It may seem like old news to some, but only 50 years after the fact, it is worth recalling that there existed in Mississippi, under the protection of local laws and the indifference of much of the rest of the nation, a great apparatus dedicated to maintaining white supremacy -- or “preserving a way of life,” as its beneficiaries liked to say. An astonishing bit of contemporary propaganda, “Message from Mississippi,” tells the world that all is well in the Magnolia State: “Out of the statewide pattern of segregation, mutual respect and cooperation among the races has arisen a productive, law-abiding way of life.”
The voices heard in the documentary remind us that while there is a New South, even in Mississippi, the old guard has not yet passed, and also that it was not only white people who sought to maintain the status quo -- commission informants included a few (a few, mind you) prominent black figures -- or cooperated with or worked for authorities, believing the situation to be permanently irredeemable. It is, additionally, a story of breaking this story: Records of the commission were declared sealed for 50 years, but were leaked in the late 1980s to an enterprising reporter; their opening led to some two dozen convictions, including that of Medgar Evers’ killer, Byron De La Beckwith. No matter how many times you see it, this stuff is eye-opening. (It’s Black History Month, not incidentally, to whose celebration public television has long been one of the most visible contributors.)
“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (Tuesday, PBS). This “American Experience” documentary shares a title with the 1969 Paul Newman/Robert Redford/George Roy Hill/William Goldman film, though not the artisanal banter or, happily, “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head.” Otherwise, it’s pretty close in spirit, event and narrative arc to the story that Hollywood told, including the destruction of a railroad car through the application of too much dynamite -- from which caper the bandits departed with the equivalent of more than a million dollars in current currency. While factual, it is also however something of a romance -- in part because historians tend to fall in love with their subjects, and in part because there is something sympathetic in the subjects themselves, free spirits -- or spirits who at any rate took things freely -- at the end of the West called wild, hunted down with Javert remorselessness by corporate interests (railroads, banks) and the technologically advanced Pinkerton detectives they employed. (Indeed, the talking heads in the documentary can sound as if they’re pitching a movie: “The Flyer is coming down the tracks … and we see a couple of guys with a lantern shaking it back and forth to stop the train.”)
And it is easy to find them sympathetic, Butch and Sundance. (As depicted in the documentary, they are pleasanter company than Walter White, anyway.) Cassidy promoted bank and train robbery from a usually unsuccessful act of (often inebriated) impulse to a studied, scientific art, with carefully planned getaways and the support of citizens whose lives were also being diminished by the forces that were pressing upon the Wild Bunch (no relation to the Peckinpah crew). Notwithstanding press descriptions of the gang as “bloodthirsty,” Cassidy’s M.O. was the bloodless coup; it was not until he and his partner were fatally cornered in far Patagonia that he shot anyone.
They were famous, even if they were hard to find. They made pots of money. They dressed up and had their picture taken. The film presents the usual mix of historical ephemera and re-created scenes -- which, as they involve horses and locomotives steaming by night and big Western vistas, are nice to look at, and not too intrusive.