I’ve been recording a lot of commercial TV shows—and weeding them out. Last night I ditched a weekly true crime show from ABC. The stories were interesting, but should have been an hour each instead of two.
“Locked Up Abroad,” however, is looking better and better.
First, there are the tours of prisons around the world—the hell-holes we know our protagonists will be in at the end. There’s no mystery there, except only the “how?” and the “why?”
Most of each show is more about those questions. The fear, the panic, the dread, the certainty of detection and capture, the inexpressible relief of slipping from the jaws of capture and detention — followed (often immediately) by the blinding horror of being tripped up and seized at the last minute, with escape and success receding straight ahead in plain sight.
It’s nearly exhausting.
But what makes the show so compelling—beyond the reenactments and the location footage—are the narrators. The production values here are top-notch. I’m talking about the writing.
You see, the narrators are not second- or third-tier pretty faces from network TV. They’re not million-dollar-a-minute A-listers doing voiceovers for the show. No, the narrators are the criminals themselves. The people who did the crime (most often smuggling—usually drugs) and who did the time. No Get-Out-Of-Jail cards are played. You know how this ends.
The Best Part: These people, narrating on-camera, are describing what they did and what happened to them 10, 20, 30 years in the past. Last night I watched a guy describing what sent him to prison 40 years ago. He was intelligent, articulate, thoughtful, compelling, attractive…. And I watched him, thinking all the time to myself: Yes, but how? And why? This guy? This—grandfather? No way.
The more I look at these contradictions, the more interesting the show becomes. Oh—and, of course, in a show like this, featuring these awful confessions, there’s precious little bullsh*t. And oceans of arrogance and naivetè.
Better than fiction, IMHO.
Locked Up Abroad – National Geographic Channel