5 Unintentionally Hilarious Moments in Every True Crime Show
Here's an interest you don't include in your dating profile bio: I love watching true crime documentaries. I actually prefer the term "murder shows," which I imagine would sound even less attractive to a prospective mate.
I've been in a relationship for well over a year now, though, so I've been slowly introducing all the weird shit I used to enjoy back into my life over the past few months. To that end, almost all of the television I've watched recently has been nothing but murder shows. I've burned through at least 20 seasons worth of episodes in that time, covering shows from Deadly Women to The Nightmare Next Door and everything in between (provided it's on Netflix). I've seen it all lately as it relates to grisly crime porn, and most of it doesn't make for great comedy material.
That can't be said for the things on this list, though! These are the five funniest moments you'll see in any true crime documentary.
The Part Where Nobody Locks Their Doors
Here is the opening line from approximately 9 out of 10 murder shows: "It was the kind of small town where nobody locks their doors."
Heads up: If you live in one of those towns, start locking your goddamn door. There are killers coming after you, and you would know it if you watched these shows. You don't, though, and that's why murder shows will never go away. For time eternal, people in towns with populations in the four-to-five digit range will always take the lack of hustle and bustle around them as a sign that they're safe from all of the horrors of "city life."
So people don't lock their doors and what happens? At some point, some random lunatic blows into town, walks through one of those readily available unlocked doors and just murders the shit out of someone, usually a woman. It's so common among the stories featured on these shows that I'm genuinely surprised when I hear a news story about a serial killer terrorizing a major city, even if it went unspeakably well for Jason Voorhees.
Not to mention dozens of satisfied moviegoers.
Why put up with all the extra hassle that comes with trying to kill someone who actually takes steps to protect themselves when you could just go to the nearest one stoplight town and have a veritable buffet of potential victims sleeping cozily behind their unlocked doors?
That's the mentality that the murder show killer takes, and that's why his (or her) crimes get featured on television shows. Not having to expend energy hassling with locked doors or security measures of any sort means more time for cleanup, and that, of course, makes a case way harder to solve. And that, in turn, makes for some fantastic television.
The action isn't always contained to one location, though. Sometimes, the crime happens in one spot and the body is dumped in another. That's when you often encounter the next comedic moment that hides in the shadows of every murder show.
The Mannequin Hypothesis
When a person finds a dead body somewhere out in the open, what's the first thing they say when they're interviewed about it later? Usually, something along the lines of, "At first, I assumed it was just a mannequin."
Well here's my question: Why in the fuck would it be a mannequin? What kind of fashion hub is this crime happening in that mannequins would outnumber people? Because that's what it would take, right? If we're talking science (and I usually am), for the probability of stumbling upon a mannequin in the middle of nowhere to be higher than stumbling upon a dead body there would have to be significantly more mannequins than people in the area. Right? I'm legitimately asking. I'm not going to read the comments and see if any of you answered, of course. Totally asking, though.
Personally, if I was walking in an open field in some rural area, I'd be way more creeped out if I found a mannequin than if I found a dead body. In fact if I was walking with a friend and they spied a leg or something sticking out from underneath a pile of brush, I'm pretty sure the initial response that would emanate from my gut would be something like, "Yeah, it's probably a dead body. It's not like a mannequin is going to just walk itself out here, right?"
I'm especially confident that would be my response now that I've written it down in advance.
Anyway, I expect people to turn up in remote areas. The fact that people stumble upon dead bodies in remote areas proves that people do in fact venture into those areas from time to time. Why would it be so surprising that one of them might drop dead while they're out there?
That said, if by chance you do happen upon a mannequin that's been dumped unceremoniously in the middle of nowhere, just go ahead and treat it like a crime scene anyway. Even if they haven't technically gone afoul of the law yet, the weirdo who drags a life-size doll to the middle of a desolate area isn't too far away from giving it a try. Or at least they're on the verge of trying something society could do without. Best to put an end to those shenanigans before the dry runs turn into actual felonies.
Good luck getting that kind of extra effort out of the law enforcement officials who populate the casts of most murder shows, though. As the next point will show, they've got other shit to take care of besides policing.
The Detective's Trivial Pursuit Montage
This is a feature exclusive to Investigation Discovery's psychopath documenting juggernaut The Nightmare Next Door, but it's so bizarre it would border on a disservice to you if I didn't mention it.
For some reason, every episode of The Nightmare Next Door takes a break from the murder-y action to deliver a quick vignette about the bullshit hobbies the lead detective who worked the case in question dabbles in to blow off a little steam. If I'm being totally honest, I think just the fact that they drop this into the middle of a television show documenting a real person's real brutal murder at all is kind of weird. It's a problem that's made worse by what I do for a living.
No, the other thing. As an employee of the Internet, I do a lot of my work at home from the comfort of my own couch. Unsurprisingly, I often have the television on while I'm working, and it's during these moments that The Nightmare Next Door and its crazy detective montages turn extra hilarious. Few things are quite as jarring as turning on an episode of this show, drinking in the horrifying details of the crime, getting lost in work for 15 minutes or so and then looking back up at the screen to see the lead detective jamming on a Beatles song in his garage.
"Can we talk about how I'm murdering this cover of 'Yesterday' for a second?"
It's a long and winding road that leads from grisly murder to guitar solo, or at least you'd think that would be the case. So it's even more baffling when you realize that the montage is happening with half the episode still to go, leaving you to wonder exactly what this detective is celebrating. Did the victim come back to life? That's certainly something to rock over, but it has yet to happen a single time.
Nevertheless, these celebratory montages about maxin' and relaxin' show up in every episode. At least they're slightly more flattering than the next law enforcement related point.
The Capabilities Check
Staying with those wacky cops for a moment; at some point during any true crime documentary, they're going to interview not only the lead detective, but also the various police officers and lab workers and gas station attendants who acted as witnesses or were otherwise involved in the case.
This kind of stuff is always good times, no matter what the topic or even what show you're watching. A person being interviewed is just way more likely to say something entertainingly stupid than, say, the deep voiced narrator who's been tasked with conveying to you the viciousness of the attack.
One interview subject who can always be counted on to deliver the funny is the cop they talk to immediately after it's been revealed that the person who committed the crime is still on the loose. What makes this particular interview so enjoyable is that, inevitably, the person answering the questions will say something like, "If these people can hold a family of three hostage in their home before killing them execution style in the garage ... we have no idea what they're capable of."
Really? It seems to me that we know exactly what they're capable of, which is holding a family of three hostage in their home before killing them execution style in the garage. If nothing else, that should be enough information with which to form an opinion or make a rough estimate.
Maybe there's even some kind of threat assessment app we can run that information through to give us some kind of higher level idea of what they're capable of but, again, this seems unnecessary to me. We have the details we need already, thank you very much, now get to capturing, officer, what is taking you so long?
Hey, speaking of that ...
The Warped Sense of Time
Watch enough murder shows and you'll notice an interesting pattern. When it comes to time, they either tell you that way too much has passed since the crime was committed or they give you absolutely no specifics at all. The investigation just happened over the course of some unnamed amount of time. I think I know why.
In their earliest incarnations, a lot of these true crime shows mostly profiled "cold cases," or cases that have gone years or even decades without being solved. The reason for that is simple: A case that takes a long time to solve is interesting. There are usually an array of witnesses and suspects and questions and plot twists and it all just adds up to the most enjoyable thing you'll ever watch that also happens to be about the horribly brutal death of another human (with all due respect to that Grizzly Man documentary where Werner Herzog was eaten by a bear or whatever).
Unfortunately, those cases are few and far between. I mean, that's fortunate, actually, just not for television viewers. Crimes that are solved in mere hours rarely provide the same kind of drama that a good ole' cold case will.
Nevertheless, there are way more shows than there are cold cases to support them, so those less difficult to solve crimes also make their way onto television sometimes. And if there's one thing that murder shows do shockingly well, it's making you feel like the case they're profiling took months, if not years, to solve, even if that's the furthest thing from the truth.
They work kind of like a Beatles song works. The Beatles were masters at fitting all sorts of twists and turns into songs that were usually three minutes long at best. Take "Ticket to Ride," for example.
By the midway point of that song, they've been to the chorus and back like three times and there are still bridges and all sorts of other stuff to come. All of that change makes the song seem like it must be longer than it is but there's none of that "actually waiting ten minutes for the song to end" unpleasantness to contend with.
True crime documentaries employ similar tactics to make the cases they're profiling seem way more difficult to crack than they really were. In the space of 22 minutes or so (subtracting for commercials), you'll see interviews with no less than three people who authorities "thought may have been the guy" and will be treated to at least one send off to the commercial that implies a huge twist nobody saw coming is on the way. It's enough drama to sustain a person for months, and that's exactly how long it feels like they must have been working to solve this crime.
At least you feel that way until, like almost every other crime since 1998 or so, it's revealed that police obtained cell phone records about ten minutes into the investigation that show someone was not only lying about where they were but happened to be in the area of the crime. Cell phones pinging off towers close to crime scenes are the hastily left behind 1980's crime scene jizz of today in that most criminals were wholly unaware that such a thing could be used to convict them of a crime. In fact, pretty much any true crime show documenting a case that happened after 1998 or so should just be called "...And Then We Got the Cell Phone Records."
"Get this, everyone thinks I'm in Virginia right now!"
The thing is, they usually get those records pretty quickly. It's not difficult information to obtain and if it's part of an ongoing murder investigation that's especially true. So, all of those twists and turns and peaks and valleys that you traverse while watching an episode of Sins and Secrets that act to make the case seem like it was bordering on unsolvable were actually just standard operating procedure. In other words, you've just spent the last half hour of your life watching the tale of a crime that was solved through paperwork.
Not a lot of programs could pull that trick over and over and stay on the air for any length of time. Well done, murder shows.
Adam hosts a podcast called Unpopular Opinion that you should check out right here. You should also be his friend on Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr.