Now a Drama Series, Mystery of the Staircase Will Last Forever

The Staircase stars Colin Firth as Michael Peterson and Toni Collette as Kathleen Peterson.Courtesy of HBO/Crave

The question must be asked bluntly: did she fall or was she pushed? Indeed, Kathleen Peterson was found dead at the bottom of the stairs. What happened to Peterson one night in December 2001 has been the subject of much scrutiny. In fact, this case can be considered the origin story of the true crime documentary genre.

Kathleen’s husband, novelist and columnist Michael Peterson, was the suspect in the case from the start. And shortly after the indictment, Oscar-winning French director Jean-Xavier de Lestrade and a team gained access to Peterson and his defense team. Everything was documented with a thoroughness and detail that was, at the time, very unusual.

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The eight-hour documentary, The staircase, broadcast in Europe in 2004, later in the United States and won a Peabody Award. It is considered a classic and many other now familiar series, from make a murderer leave, imitated his method and his tone. In 2013, de Lestrade revisited the case, which had so many twists and turns it demanded more attention. Three new hours have been added and on Netflix you get the full story in 13 episodes.

The staircase (HBO, Crave streams) is new, a dramatization of the case. Yes, it is so baffling and prickly that it continues to fascinate and commands yet another scrutiny. Colin Firth plays Michael Peterson and does so with rare skill. If you think the case has already been exploited enough, your mind is changed by Firth’s extraordinary subtlety as a man of many secrets and illusions.

Unlike the docu-series — which is part of the drama here, with de Lestrade and his crew becoming key characters — the new series doesn’t focus so narrowly on Peterson and his lawyers. This opens the story to introduce Kathleen (Toni Collette) as a woman weary of supporting a blended family – her and Michael’s children – and mentally torn by the knowledge of her husband’s other life as a bisexual with lovers. masculine. As the trial, and then the retrial, continues, the family becomes divided, with some remaining loyal to Michael and others at first suspicious and then rebuffed.

Though Firth anchors it with startling opacity, it’s an ensemble drama (eight episodes, three available now) that carries weight as both a mystery and a treatment of the vagaries of the American legal system. Also, you could say, the vagaries of perception, something that Michael Peterson fully understands. Adapted by Antonio Campos and Maggie Cohn, this is top-notch, bold, Emmy-ready drama about what is truly an unsolvable affair.

Glenn Close, second from right, in Tehran.APPLE TV+

Also airing/streaming this weekend – Tehran (AppleTV+ streams) returns for a second season.

The first batch of episodes of this Israeli spy drama have been one of the great pleasures of 2020. Taut, concise, slick, and carefully adding humanity to its story of Mossad agent Tamar Rabinyan (Niv Sultan ), sent to Tehran to neutralize a radar system and allow the Israeli Air Force to bomb the Iranian nuclear reactor. As twisted as it is, the story (in English, Hebrew and Farsi, with subtitles) never forgets to give us some depth of feeling about all players, regardless of side.

The first season ended with several double crosses and betrayals. Iranian intelligence officer Faraz (superbly played as a complex and cunning character by actor Shaun Toub) had chased Tamar. But Tamar escaped with her sidekick Milad overnight in Tehran as the Israeli mission was a debacle. Now Tamar is stuck there, but being born in Iran is no safety net. Glenn Close joins the cast as the boss who must persuade or manipulate Tamar into a dangerous new way to accomplish this thwarted mission.

The Big Conn is on Apple TV+.APPLE TV+

Also note the arrival of The big con (AppleTV+ streams), a four-part docu-series that’s about, yes, a con artist. Here is Eric C. Conn, a Kentucky attorney who for many years ran a Social Security scam that netted him over half a billion dollars (US). It is not a subtle treatment of history. Conn was a good old boy – popular, gregarious and famous for his TV and radio commercials. Heavily married, he was, at one point, in cahoots with judges and social security officials in the United States, and part of the story’s thrust is the sheer complexity of the government system and oversight. inadequate. What did Conn succeed with? This story involves porn stars, voodoo dolls and private jets. No, seriously, it is.

Finally, if true crime or espionage isn’t your thing, know wild babies (streams Netflix). New to Neflix’s high definition nature showcase, it features narration by Helena Bonham Carter, speaking only of baby animals in the wild. If that dreamy, whispering voice doesn’t soothe you, along with the cute creatures, then nothing can.

Wild Babies is streaming on Netflix.Courtesy of Netflix

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