Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Hollywood Babble On & On #1262: Quo Vadis American Crime Story?

Glad to back my loyal readers. I hope you're still out there.


Sorry it's been soooooo long since I last posted. Things have been busy lately. One the up side, I signed a contract with a publisher in Los Angeles for a mystery novel, and my work as chief caregiver for my parents has been taking up most of my time lately since my mother's knee surgery.

Anyway, enough about me, let's talk about movies and TV.

If you've been missing American Crime Story: The People vs OJ Simpson, you've been missing a treat. It's been wildly entertaining, and stacked with tons of Emmy worthy performances from the entire cast. I haven't seen a single false note in the acting, and more than a few moments of pure performance bliss.

(The scene where David Schwimmer as Robert Kardashian lectures his kids on the emptiness of fame without virtue is pure brilliance. I had to rewind to revel in its satiric glory)

But what to do with Season 2?

Well, it seems that the show's driving force Ryan Murphy wants to take the show in a different direction in Season 2. He wants to take it from covering a true crime story with the sort of intense detail that only a TV series can do, and do a fictional story about people living in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. So basically a variation of David Simon's Tremé from HBO, which came and went with some good reviews, but not much in the line of impact.

This seems to be in keeping with Murphy's modus operandi to create a show, deliver really high quality in the first season, then begin whittling away everything people liked about the show in subsequent seasons to diminishing returns in audience satisfaction and ratings. I witnessed this with Murphy's biggest mainstream hit Glee, where my twitter feed went from fans raving about the show, to fans complaining about the show, to fans ignoring the show. The same has happened with his other anthology series American Horror Story, which got raves at the beginning and then faded into a mess of loose narrative strings and steadily declining viewership.

I don't know what happened in the case of Horror Story, but it seems that Crime Story is the victim of a fundamental misunderstanding of the show's success. The people behind the show seem to think that the show's success hinges on issues of race in America.

Like in the real case of O.J. Simpson, race is more of a distraction and an excuse for some decisions than the real heart of the issue. The success of American Crime Story is that they're telling a true story where literally everyone knows the ending so well that it's compelling to watch.

I think there's a market for more true crime, and that Murphy and ACS are fools to just give it up when they've already set themselves up as the gold standard.

Let's look at some cases they could adapt that would be better ideas:

Harry Thaw & Stanford White.  In the 1900s White was a brilliant architect, top dog of New York high society, and an unrepentant lecher. Harry Thaw was the son of nouveau riche industrialists who had the paranoid belief that White had blackballed him from high society, this obsession grew even stronger when he married model and dancer Evelyn Nesbit. Nesbit had been White's mistress when she was a teenager, and may have even been raped by White. This put the already mentally unstable and violently abusive Thaw over the edge and he murdered White in the middle of a nightclub in front of a hundred people.

The trial and its aftermath pretty much birthed the tabloid and scandal culture we have today, and is loaded with so many myths, deceptions, and half-truths it could make compelling viewing. 

Stephanie St. Clair: The Queen of Harlem. This is the story of a woman who came to control the "numbers racket" in Harlem. While Queen she held off the mobsters like the psychopathic Dutch Schultz and became a thorn in the side of corrupt and racist policemen by using her resources to promote civil rights and political reform.

And if business and activism wasn't enough trouble for her, she ended up in a disastrous marriage to a  political activist turned cult leader with messianic and hitlerian tendencies that ended with a gunshot.

The fact that she survived and thrived in these conditions would make a fascinating television show.

You could even cast Travolta as Dutch Schultz, Sterling K. Brown as her right hand Bumpy Johnson, and Courtney B. Vance as St. Clair's charismatic but erratic cult-leader husband Sufi Abdul Hamid who was dubbed the "Black Hitler" by the press.

The Murder of William Desmond Taylor. I wrote a review of the riveting book Tinseltown and I said then that it would make a great series, and I still do.

Anyway, these stories are true and I think they'd really rope in the viewers far better than just another social realist drama about how life is hard in New Orleans.


  1. Welcome back. You've been missed. Good luck with the novel.

  2. Rainforest Giant12/4/16 3:12 pm

    Good to see you back. Hope your parents do well. The problem with true crime is that it all hits the same note after a while, Law & Order where they had more rich upper class folk murdering people in NY than all the murders that occurred.

    Being a cop I told my mom that virtually no case looked like a L&O case at any phase. Nearly all murder is boring (because most are so similar) depressing (somebody died and usually for the same stupid reasons) and sordid and solved by confession or somebody talking. I never once had a case solved by forensics. I know it happens but usually forensics just confirms what investigators already know. Now that I type this I wonder if that is how the feebs eased into faking data? Most of what they did was simply confirm what they already knew so, 'what could it hurt to just skip the step?'.

    Anyway, I am not the audience for crime shows, 'true' or otherwise. There are a few interesting stories but I don't trust Hollywood to get it anything like right. The cases where I have known any details they are invariably wrong or distorted.

    The guy should go to Brit television where each season he could do something different.

  3. I'm still here! And still reading!

    You still owe me a visit to Texas so I can feed you on giant mesquite-grilled steaks, tex-mex food, and see everything that flyover country represents.

  4. Yay! The "D" is freed! Looking forward to more good stuff.