Try NatGeo’s Badlands for Making a Murderer Withdrawals

NatGeo has had some programming highs and lows in the last decade or so, and until recently I’ve been unable to find something truly binge-worthy in its line-up.

But I stumbled onto Badlands, Texas during a particularly slow viewing night and got hooked. It has true crime, human interest, a slice of Americana…not unlike a certain Netflix docu-series that’s been making the rounds lately. I actually started watching Badlands before Making a Murderer, though at the traditional real-time TV pace once a week, so it’s still going strong.

The show tells the stories of the residents of Terlingua, an off-grid border town in Texas. It’s filmed in an almost impressionist style, with a lot of badlands b-roll and abstract visual sequences like glass shattering in slow-mo, or puzzle pieces falling into place on a stark white table.

Some of the characters add to this eerie feel, in particular a man I just refer to as The Stranger (but whose real name is Ty Mitchell) because he reminds me so much of Sam Elliot’s role in The Big Lebowski. He couldn’t have been written any better in a fictional script…he’s got a 10-gallon hat, snake-skin boots, a leather eye patch, a gnarly scar down one cheek, and a bottle of beer set next to his propped up legs on a rustic table, while he holds a cup of black coffee at the same time.

At first, I thought the show would be focused solely on telling the stories of Terlingua’s residents, which would have been fine. But nay; as soon as we’re introduced to The Stranger, Trailer-Rental Ronda (who is strikingly gorgeous), ‘Doctor Doug’ and the rest of the cast of characters, we’re on to the real meat of the matter: one of this tiny town’s residents killed another resident. They were both loved, they were both drunk, and now one is dead and the other doesn’t remember doing the deed.

Cue the trial; cue Episode 2.

Badlands, Texas is on NatGeo and available on Hulu.




Recently Consumed Media: Behind the Mask

We moved recently, and in an effort to keep costs down, became a hulu-and-Netflix-only-for-tv household. Mostly, it’s liberating to be untied from network ratings battles and the impossibly unpredictable schedules of cable programming.  There are things to miss — for me, it’s the nightly news and Jeopardy! — but for the most part the transition has been a fairly painless.

The best part of being a ‘web-based viewer’ is finding stuff you might not otherwise watch. You’re surfing around looking for the perfect show and something catches your eye… sometimes you’re back to browsing within seconds after taking a gamble on a show that turns out to be totally stupid. But other times, you find a little gem.

Behind the Mask, a hulu original, is one of those gems.

What it is:

Created by filmmaker Josh Greenbaum, Behind the Mask profiles sports and business mascots at various stages of their careers, be it at the high school, college, semi-pro, freelance, or pro level. It has two seasons in the can, and earned a Sports Emmy nomination for Outstanding New Approaches in Sports Programming in 2014.

Why it’s good:

The primary reason Behind the Mask rocks is the people it profiles. Some serendipitous wind blew a slew of really interesting people in Greenbaum’s direction… or maybe this is just a side-effect of the mascot subculture. Either way, these are compelling, multi-faceted, root-for-’em type of people hidden behind fur, fiberglass, and mesh-covered eye holes.

Take Kevin Vanderkolk, for instance, who doubles as the NBA Milwaukee Bucks’ Bango. A long-trained gymnast (who married a neurologist) Vanderkolk has athleticism that rivals and in some ways bests that of the players he’s cheering on.

This also isn’t a reality show that tries to contort its characters into society’s ne’er-do-wells. Instead, every mascot featured in two seasons experiences some type of success, which the show celebrates, and their share of defeats. Thanks to compassionate filming and some great storytelling, I found myself celebrating every win and sharing every disappointment. Real reality programming is so refreshing.

Just one thing, hulu…stop selling ad space to SeaWorld so they can assure us their orcas are happy. Thanks.