38TH FILM INDEPENDENT SPIRIT AWARDS
The first category in which I’ve seen all the nominees for the 2023 Film Independent Spirit Awards is the Best New Non-Scripted or Documentary Series. I’ve listed all five series in the order that I enjoyed them, from the one I liked the most to the one I liked the least. Last year, “Black and Missing” ended up winning in this category, which I placed lower on my list. My vote when to “Philly DA.”
“We Need To Talk About Cosby”
January 30, 2022 | Showtime | 4 Episodes | 237 min | TV-MA
W. Kamau Bell thoroughly examines Bill Cosby, from his start in entertainment and his effect on pop culture to the many people he hurt along the way. There’s no denying the goodness that Cosby stood for, but this docuseries paints an unmistakable picture of what that image helped him get away with. There’s a gravity to “We Need To Talk About Cosby,” told through archival footage and a wide variety of interviews, that felt immensely important.
Executive Producers: W. Kamau Bell, Andrew Fried, Katie A. King, Vinnie Malhotra, Dane Lillegard, Sarina Roma, Jordan Wynn
Co-Executive Producer: Geraldine L. Porras
July 15, 2022 | HBO | 6 Episodes | 193 min | TV-MA
Comedian Nathan Fielder’s heart is in the right place with “The Rehearsal,” as he prepares people (and himself) for difficult situations by rehearsing them. When a man needs to tell his best friend that he’s been lying about something, he suddenly finds himself in a replica of the bar they frequent, rehearsing what he will say to an actor imitating his friend. Fielder overanalyzes every situation, stringing together explorations of “what if we did this instead of that,” like a “choose your own adventure” played out in real life. Some of the topics resonate more than others, like a young fatherless actor mistaking Fielder for his real dad after pretending to be a family unit for one of the rehearsals. Overall, my feelings toward the whole exercise were conflicted. On the one hand, I appreciate Fielder’s dry humor and attempt at something unique. Yet, many of the “real life” people felt like actors, and the rabbit holes became overly complicated and pointless.
Creator/Executive Producer: Nathan Fielder
Executive Producers: Dave Paige, Dan McManus, Christie Smith
Co-Executive Producers: Carrie Kemper, Eric Notarnicola
“Pepsi, Where’s My Jet?”
November 17, 2022 | Netflix | 4 Episodes | 157 min | TV-MA
Who knew a 21-year-old and a silly commercial from the ’90s could spawn a documentary decades later? In 1996, John Leonard saw a Pepsi commercial advertising what you could get by collecting “Pepsi Points.” The end of the commercial sparked his drive when a Harrier jet shows up, listed for seven million points, with no disclaimer present. Involving his wealthy friend, the pair went on to fight Pepsi in the legal system. “Pepsi, Where’s My Jet” is a fun docuseries fueled by likable characters and ’90s nostalgia. It does an excellent job of turning a newspaper headline into a four-episode series but lacks importance. In a world of frivolous lawsuits, there’s no real winner in a battle between a greedy company and a 21-year-old with nothing better to do.
Executive Producers: Nick Boak, Andrew Renzi, Andrew D. Corkin, Theo James, Andrew Fried, Jordan Wynn, Dane Lillegard, Sarina Roma
Co-Executive Producer: Jeremiah Murphy
“Mind Over Murder”
July 25, 2022 | HBO | 6 Episodes | 331 min | TV-MA
Nanfu Wang uses “Mind Over Murder” to analyze repressed memories and how they might be involved in the conviction of the Beatrice Six, a group of people sentenced for the rape and death of an elderly woman in their small town. Wang follows the “true crime” beats of examining the facts and interviewing the parties involved but lets you form your own opinion regarding who committed the crime. There’s a substory involving a theater group in the town reenacting the investigation and trial from transcripts that leads to some revelations in the victim’s family but otherwise feels out of place. With so many true crime documentaries, this does little to set itself apart from similar, better ones.
Executive Producers: Marc Smerling, Nanfu Wang, Max Heckman, Chad Mumm, Marc W. Olsen, Nancy Abraham, Lisa Heller, Sara Rodriguez
“Children Of The Underground”
August 12, 2022 | FX | 5 Episodes | 240 min | TV-MA
Faye Yager helping women and children escape from their abusers and sexual predators when the law fails them is an inspiring story. But when “Children Of The Underground” takes a strange turn into Yager’s theories of satanic ritual and questionable child interviewing tactics, it’s hard to be on her side. The series provides a balanced look at whether Yager was helping or harming, using interviews with people involved in the underground and footage from daytime talk shows.
Executive Producers: Dan Cogan, Liz Garbus, Jon Bardin, Ted Gesing, Gabriela Cowperthwaite, Kate Barry
Co-Executive Producer: Julie Gaither