Saturday, April 28, 2018

Till Death Do Us Part

Like many of you, I have my favorite programs to binge-watch. At the top of my list are true-crime shows. I once spent a week dog sitting at my sister's house and when done working on the keyboard for the day, I'd mix up a batch of martini's and kick back to episodes of Inside the American Mob. Besides writing, I also paint, and when busy in my studio I key up Netflix in the background. During an extended flurry to complete a series of new works I cycled through all the seasons of Forensic Files. One consequence is that when I look now at any one painting I'm reminded of whatever homicides were investigated during its creation.

Years ago, the top crime show was COPS, which I didn't like. Police raids through trailer parks and Section 8 housing seemed more exercises in class warfare than searching for the bad guys. Not that the low-life offenders didn't deserve what they got, it's just that the crimes committed by the wealthy and middle-class went unnoticed.

Until Forensic Files. The big draw of the show is of course how advances in forensics allow investigators to solve crimes and bring justice and closure to victims and their survivors. While I appreciate the forensic science, the attraction for me is the human drama, usually someone deciding that the solution to their present dilemma is to murder the spouse/significant other/immediate family member/business partner. Sometimes the show deals with serial killers hunting targets of opportunity but mostly investigators don't stray far beyond an immediate circle of the dead guy's acquaintances. Unlike the trailer-trash perps of COPS, on Forensic Files we witness the well-to-do and privileged committing homicide: bankers, lawyers, doctors, real estate agents, police detectives, and even a bestselling novelist (Michael Peterson). Though these people were uniformly educated, they made a lot of stupid mistakes, for instance stashing the murder weapon and bloody clothes in the basement washing machine. Incriminating evidence left on computers has likewise undone many a "fool-proof" plan. I also notice that in Forensic Files, on occasion the police get timely leads via a "mysterious phone call." Makes me wonder what was the source? An informant? A bugged phone? Evidence obtained through extra-legal means?

When I'd run through all the seasons available on Netflix, I moved on to Murderous Affairs. Here the gimmick is love gone very wrong. On the minus side, they use a lot of dramatizations with actors who appeared to have been yanked from the office temp pool or relatives impressed into service. Needless to say, you won't be wowed by the acting. In one episode, the "dead victim" giggled when the EMTs tried to lift her onto a gurney. It doesn't help that the cheesy uniforms look purchased from the discount costume bin at Walmart. Aside from that, the compelling hook is the drama and the violence it spawned. As in Forensic Files, victims and killers are middle-class or higher in socio-economic standing. And they make a lot of dumb mistakes. Occasionally there's crossover in cases between Forensic Files and Murderous Affairs. Though Forensic Files has better writing and effects, Murderous Affairs often sheds light on Forensic Files' mysterious phone calls--usually ex's or vengeful rivals dropping a dime. Rejected romance equals revenge.

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