Reel Crime/Real Story: TV Review

Investigation Discovery
An attempt at a new take on old crimes falls short of outdoing its fictionalized counterparts.

Investigation Discovery's latest entry in the true-crime genre pits real-life cases against their filmic versions — and suffers by comparison.

True crime stories always have been beloved on television, whether for their schadenfreude (“Ha! Those poor schmucks”) or their educational aspects (“How would I rob a bank if I had to?”). Investigation Discovery devotes its entire lineup to the obsession, and its new three-part series Reel Crime/Real Story capitalizes on the interest in some particularly famous true-crime cases by comparing them with their gritty (but somehow still glamorous) Hollywood offspring.

Though the show is hosted by (an underused) Erin Brockovich, someone who has first-hand knowledge of how a true story can be turned into studio fodder, there is little actual talk of contrasts between the real events and their fictional versions. In fact, it’s jarring when the show seems to stop its retelling and reenactments of the crimes and remembers it needs to bring Brockovich back onscreen to show the differences between the events portrayed and their narrative film versions. Even then, it seems for the most part that Hollywood got a good deal right. The only difference may be that reality ismore tedious. As Reel Crime starts to drag under the weight of staying “true,” viewers may indeed begin to yearn for the film versions’ more entertaining creative nonfiction.

Further, the subjects (Aileen Wuornos, played by Charlize Theron in Monster; the singer Selena, portrayed by Jennifer Lopez in a biopic of the same name; and Pamela Smart, on whom Nicole Kidman’s character in To Die For was based) are not particularly fresh territory. Wuornos already has had two feature film documentaries as well as episodes of both A&E’s Biography and Discovery’s Deadly Women devoted to her case, and there has been similar treatment of the Selena and Smart cases as well.

In the Wuornos episode, there are several unsettling minutes of never-before-seen interview footage in which Wuornos speaks to her crimes and also about her former lover Tyria. But even this coupled with a number of interviews from law enforcement officials and undercover officers from that time doesn’t feel like enough to justify yet another rehashing of the case. The Selena episode in particular lacks any new or interesting information to keep the story fresh for viewers who, presumably, are already familiar with these exceptionally famous crimes.

Executive producers John X. Kim (The First 48, Detroit S.W.A.T.) and Eugenie Vink (My Strange Phobia, Best Evidence) both have a great deal of experience with police-driven and investigative shows, but their latest offering lacks spark and drama. Still, for those niche viewers of Investigation Discovery’s other criminal fare, the series may feel like taking a trip down memory lane with some of the most popular, if overexposed, fictionalized crimes. After all, it’s the public’s enduring fascination with these cases that keeps bringing TV and film back to the well.

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