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The Best Documentaries on HBO to Watch During Your Big Nights In

As the need to stay in urgently rises, so does the number of titles you need to add to your streaming list. If you’ve got television fatigue and feel like your brain is slowly dissolving into a ball of mush from all the reality shows you’ve been watching, it might be time to pivot your viewing choices and opt for documentaries instead.

On HBO alone, you’ll find captivating films covering everything from the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes, to the deep-seeded scheme to rig the McDonald’s Monopoly game in the ’90s, to the Baltimore protests that erupted after the death of Freddie Gray. Learn while you watch and emerge from quarantine still a couch potato, but an informed one.

At the Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Gymnastics Scandal (2019)

An emotional deep dive into the appalling story of how Dr. Larry Nassar sexually abused hundreds of female athletes, At the Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Gymnastics Scandal examines how a broken system turned a blind eye to gross wrongdoings in order to prioritize winning. For more than two decades, Nassar served as the osteopathic physician for the U.S. women’s Olympic gymnastics team, as well as a physician at Michigan State University (MSU), despite numerous accusations leveled against him by female athletes. At both jobs, he abused his patients by improperly groping, touching, and penetrating them, excusing his actions as legitimate medical methods. Directed by Erin Lee Carr, the film covers Rachael Denhollander’s case-breaking 2016 account, which ultimately led to Nassar’s arrest and the reform of women’s sports forever.

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Baltimore Rising (2017)

Filmed in the wake of the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who died in police custody after sustaining injuries to his spinal cord during his arrest, Baltimore Rising addresses the systemic abuse of the Black community by police and gives a voice to the ever-growing movement demanding police reform. Covering Gray’s death—including how his six arrestors used excessive force and failed to properly secure him in a police van, causing him to fall into a coma—as well as the protests and riots that erupted in response and the unsuccessful prosecutions of the officers involved, the film, directed by Sonja Sohn, is an urgent portrait of anger, activism, and the power of both.

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David Bowie: The Last Five Years (2017)

Just as its name suggests, David Bowie: The Last Five Years examines the final years of one of music’s most magnificent, enigmatic stars. After nearly a decade of silence following a heart attack, Bowie returned to the spotlight to produce some of the most important work of his career: The Next Day (2013), a masterful rock album; Lazarus (2015), a musical he co-wrote inspired by the character he played in the 1976 film The Man Who Fell to Earth; and Blackstar (2016), a jazzy record released on Bowie’s 69th birthday, two days before his death. Directed by Francis Whately, the film is a must-see for Bowie fans new and old.

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I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth v. Michelle Carter (2019)

Covering an unprecedented case that raised questions about whether one person can be held accountable for the suicide of another, Erin Lee Carr’s I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth v. Michelle Carter presents a fascinating look at one of the most chilling and highly publicized stories of recent years. In 2014, 18-year-old Conrad Roy died by suicide in his truck after letting it fill with lethal carbon monoxide. When police discovered text messages on Roy’s phone from his girlfriend, 17-year-old Michelle Carter, that seemingly encouraged him to kill himself, a trial against her began that would forever change the justice system.

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The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley (2019)

Another explosive release from Alex Gibney, The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley chronicles the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes, who swindled the entire world into thinking she was the next Steve Jobs while at the helm of her ultimately fraudulent health care company, Theranos. In 2004, Holmes dropped out of Stanford to start a company that she believed would transform the world of blood testing. Her marketing efforts were huge and her promises monumental, allowing Theranos to become a multibillion-dollar company, despite its technology being fundamentally impossible.

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Leaving Neverland (2019)

Centering on the stories of James Safechuck and Wade Robson, two men who claim Michael Jackson sexually abused them for years when they were children, Leaving Neverland provides a shocking and hard-to-digest revelation about one of the world’s most beloved icons. Produced and directed by Dan Reed, the two-part documentary features harrowing interviews with Safechuck, now 42 (40 in the film), and Robson, now 37 (36 in the film), and their families that expose how the sustained abuse began, the effect it had and continues to have on their lives, and why they bravely decided to come forward with their stories when they did.

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When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (2006)

Examining the tragic effects of Hurricane Katrina through the personal stories of its survivors, When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts has been heralded as one of the most important documentaries of our time. Directed by Spike Lee, the four-part project chronicles the U.S. government’s mishandling of the devastating natural disaster, which many speculated was especially slow and ineffective because the communities affected were largely Black. Following its release, one year after Katrina hit, the documentary won three awards at the 59th Primetime Emmy Awards, as well as a Peabody Award.

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McMillion$ (2020)

The story of how $24 million were stolen via the 1990s McDonald’s Monopoly game is almost too wild to be true. Executive produced by Mark Wahlberg, McMillion$ pulls back the curtain on how an unlikely mastermind stole the winning tickets and sold them off to family and friends. A scheme with ties to the mafia, it was so baffling the FBI itself was called in to help investigate. Featuring undercover archival footage and recent interviews with the lawyers, McDonald’s employees, and the game “winners” involved, the film is as unbelievable as it is entertaining.

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Mommy Dead and Dearest (2017)

If you were a fan of Hulu’s true-crime narrative series The Act, which was based on the horrific murder of Dee Dee Blanchard by her daughter, Gypsy Rose, and the even more disturbing details surrounding it, you won’t be able to pull your eyes away from Mommy Dead and Dearest. Directed by Erin Lee Carr, the documentary recounts the true story of how a mother with Munchausen by proxy syndrome deceived and abused her daughter in ways so unspeakable that once unveiled led to her grisly demise. Involving child abuse, mental illness, and forbidden love, it’s a film that will keep you thinking long after it ends.

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South Park Is Now On HBO Max, But A Few Episodes Are Missing

All 23 seasons of the iconic, raunchy animated TV show South Park are now available to stream on HBO Max, but there are five episodes in particular that are not on the streaming platform due to their controversial nature. Here’s why and which ones you won’t find on the streaming service.

The episodes “Super Best Friends,” “Cartoon Wars” Parts 1 and 2, and “200” and “201” were not released on HBO Max because of their depiction of the Prophet Muhammad, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

These are the same five episodes that were removed from Hulu when the show was streaming there. The episodes also got cut from rotation on broadcast TV re-runs.

Doug Herzog, the former boss of South Park network Comedy Central, told The Hollywood Reporter back in 2016 that these episodes were removed due to concerns about the safety of the production team.

HBO Max bought all 23 seasons of South Park for a reported $500 million. The show remains popular and on the air, with new seasons coming through the end of 2022.

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HBO Sets ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ Season 11, Mahershala Ali Boxing Series

Tuesday was a good day to be an HBO fan: The cable network picked up Larry David’s long-running comedy series “Curb Your Enthusiasm” for Season 11 and ordered “Unruly,” a Mahershala Ali-led limited series about boxer Jack Johnson.

“Curb Your Enthusiasm” originally debuted in 2001 and has endured as one of the network’s most popular and critically acclaimed comedies. The series follows a fictionalized version of David and boasts an unconventional production where cast members improvise many of their lines. The show’s 10th season wrapped up in March with its 100th episode.

“This past season tapped into the zeitgeist in such an uncomfortably delightful way,” Amy Gravitt, executive vice president of HBO programming, said in a statement. “Larry is already busy writing, and we can’t wait to see what he has in store.”

“Curb Your Enthusiasm” Season 10 brought back series veterans such as Susie Essman, Jeff Garlin, Cheryl Hines, Richard Lewis, J.B. Smoove, and Ted Danson. There’s no word on cast details or guest stars for Season 11 ⁠— the show is also known for its numerous celebrity cameos⁠ — or a release date, but David appeared suitably enthused about the renewal.

“Believe me, I’m as upset about this as you are. One day I can only hope that HBO will come to their senses and grant me the cancellation I so richly deserve,” David said in a statement.

As for “Unruly,” Variety reported that Ali is set to portray boxer Jack Johnson in the upcoming limited series. The publication reported that “Unruly” will be “unapologetically Black” and will be a no-holds-barred telling of Johnson’s life as history’s first Black heavyweight boxing champion. The show will reportedly follow Johnson’s rise to greatness and the costs he paid for his skin color and defiance.

“Unruly” will be based on the PBS documentary “Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson.” That documentary was produced and directed by genre veteran Ken Burns. “Unruly” will be written and executive produced by Dominique Morisseau, whose credits include “Shameless,” “Step,” and Broadway musical “Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of The Temptations.” Ali will also executive produce “Unruly” alongside Tom Hanks, Gary Goetzman, Burns, Mimi Mimi Valdés, and Amatus Kari. Beau Willimon, who initiated the project at HBO back in 2013, will co-executive produce alongside Steven Shareshian.

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South Park Is Now On HBO Max, But These Episodes Are Missing

All 23 seasons of the iconic, raunchy animated TV show South Park are now available to stream on HBO Max, but there are five episodes in particular that are not on the streaming platform due to their controversial nature. Here’s why and which ones you won’t find on the streaming service.

The episodes “Super Best Friends,” “Cartoon Wars” Parts 1 and 2, and “200” and “201” were not released on HBO Max because of their depiction of the Prophet Muhammad, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

These are the same five episodes that were removed from Hulu when the show was streaming there. The episodes also got cut from rotation on broadcast TV re-runs.

Doug Herzog, the former boss of South Park network Comedy Central, told The Hollywood Reporter back in 2016 that these episodes were removed due to concerns about the safety of the production team.

HBO Max bought all 23 seasons of South Park for a reported $500 million. The show remains popular and on the air, with new seasons coming through the end of 2022.

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Mahershala Ali To Star As Boxer Jack Johnson In ‘Unruly’ HBO Limited Series In Works From Dominique Morisseau & Playtone

HBO is developing Unruly, a six-part limited series about legendary boxer Jack Johnson to be played by two-time Oscar winner Mahershala Ali. The project hails from Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman’s Playtone and will be written by Dominique Morisseau based the PBS documentary Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson, produced and directed by Ken Burns, and its companion book by Geoffrey C. Ward.

Ali has stated multiple times over the past couple of years that playing Johnson on screen is his “dream role.” He previously portrayed the athletein one of his first professional acting jobs in a stage production of “The Great White Hope” in 2000 (photo above).

Unruly is described as an unapologetically Black, no-holds-barred telling of Jack Johnson (Ali), the world’s first Black Heavyweight Boxing Champion. This bold exploration depicts the champion’s rise to athletic greatness and the costs he paid for his skin and defiance, which created a blueprint for Black resistance in every justice movement for generations to come.

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'Curb Your Enthusiasm' To Return For Season 11 On HBO

Ali is executive producing Unruly via his production company Know Wonder alongside his wife Amatus Karim Ali and their producing partner Mimi Valdés. Morisseau executive produces alongside Goetzman and Hanks via Playtone and Ken Burns via Florentine Films.

Beau Willimon will serve as co-executive producer alongside Playtone’s Steven Shareshian.

Nicknamed the “Galveston Giant”, Jackson became the first African American world heavyweight boxing champion (1908–1915) at the height of the Jim Crow era, with his 1910 fight against James J. Jeffries dubbed the “fight of the century.”

This is Mahershala Ali, Amatus Karim Ali and Mimi Valdés’ second production at HBO where Ali has a first-look deal. Their first project was the documentary series We Have a Dream: The Kids of the Oakland MLK Oratorical Fest, directed by Amy Schatz.

Ali will star in the Marvel feature Blade and in the feature Swan Song, directed by Academy Award winner Benjamin Cleary for Apple TV+. Ali was nominated for an Emmy for his role in HBO’s True Detective last year and can currently be seen in Season 2 of Ramy on Hulu. He is repped by WME, Carolyn Govers at Anonymous Content, and Shelby Weiser at Sloane Offer.

Morisseau is the Tony-nominated book writer for the Broadway musical Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of The Temptations. She was a co-producer on Shameless, has a pilot in development at FX, and wrote the film Step for Fox Searchlight. She is also currently developing a new musical based on the Soul Train franchise. Her production company is FreeDom’s Daughter. She is repped by Paradigm, and David Berlin and Carolyn Conrad at Schreck Rose.

Playtone has a long history at HBO with such Emmy-winning limited series/miniseries as Band Of Brothers, The Pacific, John Adams and Olive Kitterige.

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‘The Weight Of Gold’ Docu On Olympic Athletes & Mental Health Featuring Michael Phelps Set At HBO

HBO has acquired and set a premiere date for The Weight of Gold, a feature documentary on the mental health challenges that Olympic athletes often face. All-time medal champ Michael Phelps is among the subjects, along with Shaun White, Bode Miller and others.

The film also features  Jeremy Bloom, Lolo Jones, Gracie Gold, Apolo Anton Ohno, Sasha Cohen, David Boudia, Katie Uhlaender and the late Jeret Peterson And Steven Holcomb.

Directed by Brett Rapkin and produced by Podium Pictures in association with Octagon, The Weight of Gold will premiere at 9 p.m. Wednesday, July 29 — when the 2020 Tokyo Games were to have been going on before the event was postponed by the coronavirus pandemic.

The docu spotlights Olympic athletes, a group that has long quietly battled its own mental health crisis and now is grappling with the unprecedented postponement of the 2020 Olympics and all its implications. The film seeks to inspire the discussion of mental health, encourage help-seeking behavior, and highlight the need for readily available help and support, HBO said.

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The Weight of Gold chronicles the uniqueness of the lives of Olympic athletes, beginning at very young ages, and the demands of their pursuit of the pinnacle in their sports. The rewards are no doubt tremendous, but the mental costs – in the wake of both failure and success – can also very real, as detailed by the stories of some of the most recognizable Olympic names of the last few generations.

For swimming legend Phelps, the most decorated Olympian in history with 28 individual and team medals — including 23 golds — the film is an extremely personal pursuit. When he came out of retirement for the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janiero, it was a way to help conquer the demons of post-Olympic depression that had engulfed him following his previous departure from competition. In the years since, he’s dedicated the next phase of his life to becoming an advocate for the awareness of mental health struggles.

“I believe I have experienced a state of depression after every Olympics I competed in,” he said. “For a long time, I only saw myself as a swimmer, not a person. When I walked off the podium in Rio, I knew many of my teammates and competitors were not aware of, or prepared for – the post-Olympic transition. In sharing our stories, it is my hope that we can encourage others to open up, let them know they are not alone and that it’s OK to not be OK. For me, the opportunity to help break the stigma surrounding mental health and potentially save a life is way more meaningful than any Olympic medal.”

Said helmer Rapkin: “This particular project involved unexpectedly learning about a serious mental health crisis that I was not previously aware of: Post-Olympic depression. The current global health crisis has only brought more urgency to finding ways to reduce the stigma of seeking help and provide excellent mental health resources for not only Olympians but everyone.”

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South Park Hits HBO Max, But You Can't Watch Every Episode

All 23 seasons of the iconic animated TV show South Park are now available to stream on HBO Max, but there are five episodes in particular that are not on the streaming platform due to their controversial nature. Here’s why and which ones you won’t find on the streaming service.

The episodes “Super Best Friends,” “Cartoon Wars” Parts 1 and 2, and “200” and “201” were not released on HBO Max because of their depiction of the Prophet Muhammad, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

These are the same five episodes that were removed from Hulu when the show was streaming there. The episodes also got cut from rotation on broadcast TV re-runs.

Doug Herzog, the former boss of South Park network Comedy Central, told The Hollywood Reporter back in 2016 that these episodes were removed due to concerns about the safety of the production team.

HBO Max bought all 23 seasons of South Park for a reported $500 million. The show remains popular and on the air, with new seasons coming through the end of 2022.

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‘Last Week Tonight With John Oliver’ Explains How The Pandemic Bolsters Affordable Housing Crisis

As the week saw the U.S. setting records in cases of coronavirus with states like Texas and Flordia seeing the worst spikes, Mike Pence claimes the country has slowed the spread and flattened the curve to which John Oliver responded: “That is such an open and stupid lie.”

With the surge of cases, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver addressed another crisis the country is about to face as a result of the pandemic: evictions.

With one-third of households in the country being renters and renters tending to have lower incomes than homeowners, the pandemic is going to cause evictions for the foreseeable future. Stimulus checks, expanded unemployment insurance and state and federal moratoriums on evictions have helped navigate the storm, but those resources are not enough. “Those mechanisms are now starting to run out or expire and if we do nothing, experts are predicting horrific outcomes with millions of people left vulnerable,” said Oliver, adding that the coronavirus crisis can turn into a homelessness crisis.

As these moratoriums begin to lift, some courts have been holding eviction cases with webcams in separate rooms in the courtroom, over the phone or even on zoom.

“What are you doing?!” exclaimed Oliver. “It might be worth thinking twice about what you’re taking part in. If you’re throwing people out of their homes via Zoom, a platform you’re only using because it’s not safe for people to leave their homes.”

He added, “That fact is, we’re about to go out of our way to throw people out of their homes at the worst possible time.”

Even before the pandemic, evictions have been damaging with long term effects.They have been linked to heightened residential instability, substandard housing, declines in neighborhood quality and job loss. Oliver also points out that on the individual level, evictions would cause families to lose their possessions and make it difficult for them to obtain new housing.

According to statistics Oliver shared, approximately a million households have been evicted each year over the past decade and this has disproportionately impacted people of color. Black households are twice as likely to get evicted than white households. To add to that, women of color, particularly Black women are especially vulnerable. Lack of affordable housing has a systemic problem long before pandemic struck and like everything else, they got even worse.

In a clip from March, Larry Kudlow, who Oliver refers to as a “decomposing melon”, Kudlow unpacks the Trump administration’s plan when it comes to rent. He said that there is a freeze on rent payment and that there will be no evictions during this period. Although it sounds like good news, Oliver said that the policy he is talking about pauses evictions, not rent. For those who can’t pay, the bills will pile up and the policy only applies to certain properties.

“The federal moratorium of evictions left a lot of people unprotected and while several dozen states put in place their own moratoriums, many of those protections have already expired, leaving renters in 23 states with no state-level protection from eviction,” Oliver explains.

Some can rely on the kindness of landlords who have worked with tenants including Mario Salerno, a landlord in New York who waived rent for his 200 tenants in July. However, some aren’t as kind. One renter in Arizona received threatening emails from their landlord in Canada while Michael Bowman in Mecklenburg County in North Carolina is, like many landlords and property managers, waiting to evict tenants at the first available opportunity.

In a news clip, Bowman admitted that he is not one to let tenants go by without paying rent. He is moving forward with evictions despite court hearings being on hold. He talked about how it’s “just business” to throw a single mother and her three kids out into the streets.

Oliver said, “Many of those moratoriums prevent the physical act of eviction but they don’t stop the legal the process that leads up to it.”

Many landlords and property managers have been able to file for evictions in court this whole time. As a result, cases have been piling up as soon as moratoriums are lifted, which are happening, evictions will come fast.

Certain companies are turning it around on tenants basically saying they should have “saved for a rainy day” to avoid eviction while some tenants are demanding rent strikes because they are accumulating debt and won’t be able to pay rent owed.

Oliver points out how rent strikes are risky because you can end up getting evicted for non-payment and, as mentioned, it will be hard to get housing in the future. However,  you can see that tenants are pushing for because they are desperate.

“Strikes have been an effective way of calling attention to how dire things are right now and while long term we desperately need a plan to fix our affordable housing crisis, in the short term, we just to find a way to keep people in their homes,” he said.

There have been efforts to help weather the storm but they have not provided solid solutions. Houston, Texas established a $15 million relief fund for renters but it was gone in 90 minutes. The city knew this was going to be an issue and encouraged citizens to reach out to their congressional representatives to advocate for greater funding, but the city can only do so much without federal intervention.

Meanwhile, Ithaca, New York is trying to cancel rent, calling on the state for funding for landlords who need relief. It requires state and fed government to act but as Oliver said, “they are dragging to feet” when it comes to solutions during the pandemic.

The House passed The Heroes Act which offers $1 billon in rental assistance to the most vulnerable, but the act has stalled out in the Senate. “The sad truth is, we already waited too long here,” Oliver said. “There is absolutely no excuse for not attacking this problem with real urgency because while we wait for Congress to act, people are dealing with consequences.”

He continues, “The very worst thing we can do right now is nothing. Every day we fail to act is a day we are compounding a future crisis for millions of vulnerable renters and their communities. We need to stop this before it gets worse”

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‘Doctor Who’: David Tennant, Matt Smith, and Jodie Whittaker Virtually Reunite for HBO Max

In honor of HBO Max becoming the official streaming home for all of the new incarnation of  “Doctor Who,” the WarnerMedia streaming service and BBC America came together for a first-time-ever “Meeting of the Doctors,” a virtual panel featuring David Tennant, Matt Smith, and current helmer of the Doctor mantle, Jodie Whittaker. Billed as a “Whovian dream come true,” this 20-minute panel — which you can view below — called on the collective powers of the Eleventh (Tennant), Twelfth (Smith), and Thirteenth Doctors (Whittaker) to discuss “Doctor Who’s” reach and legacy, as well as the camaraderie between Doctors of the past and present.

The panel also — like pretty much every panel and virtual get together as of late — discussed just how surreal it is to be having such a monumental reunion in a virtual state. Whittaker admitted that she wished this reunion could be more “like a high-five and a hug scenario,” but she appreciated getting to talk to people outside her household. “It’s almost like a social night out,” she said. Tennant agreed, explaining that, “it’d be more fun if we were actually together right now. I would enjoy that right now. But it’s nice to see some faces.”

Smith added that he finds technology “very unnerving, on all counts,” though he also noted that he “probably shouldn’t say that, as a former Doctor.”

Tennant, Smith, and Whittaker all recounted their experiences of when they were first cast as their respective iterations of Doctor, especially knowing how culturally significant the series and its titular character are in Great Britain. “Growing up in Britain, you’re very aware that ‘Doctor Who’ has been ubiquitous for all of our lives,” Tennant said. “Even when it wasn’t on TV, it’s still one of those sort of cultural things that was just kind of around…certainly when I was young, Doctor Who was one of those things that was there.” So upon casting, he understood what a big deal it was to “be carrying that around.”

Tennant continued: “It’s a huge privilege and also feels very precious, because people love it so much. And it means so much to people all through their lives, that to be a custodian of that, for a while, you just don’t want to break it. You just want to make sure that it remains as special and precious and as exciting for the next generation as it did to yours, I guess.”

Smith confirmed just how accurate Tennant’s description was: “I once had someone shout, when I was walking down the street and I hadn’t shot a single frame, ‘DON’T BREAK DOCTOR WHO!’” Whittaker recounted a similar experience from after she was cast as the Doctor, where a 16-year-old girl in a cafe told her, “I really wanted Ben Whishaw.”

Everyone wanted Ben Whishaw,” Smith said.

In addition to the panel, IndieWire briefly spoke with Tennant, Smith, and Whittaker about “Doctor Who” and what they think the selling point is for the series, specifically for audiences who have yet to hop aboard the TARDIS and aren’t as familiar as British audiences are with the science-fiction phenomenon. After all, consider how 11 seasons (and counting) are already available to stream on HBO Max and how the description of “man or woman in a box,” according to Tennant “sounds bonkers.”

“It’s a show that isn’t bound by any form or genre,” Smith said. “And that’s one of the great virtues of it, is that one week it can be a horror movie, then it can be sort of film noir, and then it can be comedy, you know, like a bromance. And it sort of manages to sort of sit in and between everything. It’s the best show in the world: That’s the tagline basically, it pretty much is.”

“It’s for everyone,” Whittaker explained. “You don’t need to have encyclopedic knowledge about that. I didn’t have that, and I found it and still find it the most accessible thing. There is something otherworldly and there is something completely relatable for everyone, and I think that’s what’s exciting about it. It’s not got a specific age group that it’s aimed at — it’s one of those beautiful things that your entire family could watch, which is quite rare.”

Doctor Who is available to stream exclusively on HBO Max and future seasons/specials will premiere on BBC America.

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'I'll Be Gone in the Dark': A Golden State Killer Docuseries That Highlights Survivors

Retired detective Paul Holes has never read his friend Michelle McNamara’s New York Times-bestselling book I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, about the hunt for the Golden State Killer — despite factoring heavily into its contents. First, he was too busy tracking down the man he and McNamara had teamed up to find. Then it was just too hard — she died before the book could be finished, before the killer could be found.

“I’m looking at the book right now sitting on my bookshelf, and I just can’t get the emotional courage to open that book and start reading it,” Holes tells Rolling Stone. “When she died, I lost somebody in my family. I can still hear her voice in my head.”

Holes feels the same way about the new six-part HBO docuseries (premiering Sunday) that shares the book’s name — although he appears in several episodes, he’s not sure he’ll ever want to watch it. The comedian Patton Oswalt, who was married to McNamara before her death at age 46 in 2016, can only make it through four episodes himself. And that’s not just because the subject matter is so hard; it’s because I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is imbued with its writer’s spirit. “It was like, ‘Oh, there she is,’” Oswalt tells Rolling Stone. “After a while, it just got too hard for me to watch.”

McNamara had long been engrossed by darkness — ever since her neighbor Kathleen Lombardo was murdered just a few blocks from her home in Oak Park, Illinois, in 1984, when McNamara was 14. She became obsessed as an adult, however, with a shadowy figure she dubbed the Golden State Killer — a then largely unknown serial killer/rapist who is suspected of committing at least 12 murders, 50 rapes, and 100 burglaries in California between 1974 and 1986. His other names include East Area Rapist, the Original Night Stalker, and the Visalia Ransacker.

In 2006, McNamara launched a website titled True Crime Diary dedicated to stalking him and other fiends, going on to write articles for Los Angeles Magazine in 2013 and 2014 about the GSK. Those pieces earned her a book deal — and a ticket to deeper fixation. She rode along with Holes when he was still an active detective in California’s Contra Costa County; he’d been on the trail of the GSK since the Nineties. Holes was at first standoffish, since he didn’t want to get reprimanded for consorting with the press, but they became friends as McNamara’s involvement in the case grew. “She was an investigator at heart,” he says. “Even without any type of experience or training, she just seemed to have a knack.”

McNamara also teamed up with fellow internet sleuth Paul Haynes, whom everyone online called “The Kid,”  to sort through towers of file boxes about the GSK — swapping theories and chasing leads that often went cold. “Weird obsessions — like being fixated on a decades-cold serial murder case that never personally touched you — can make one feel uneasy and alone,” Haynes tells Rolling Stone. “Connecting with someone like Michelle who shares your obsession and thinks about it in the same way is validating. Suddenly, you’re no longer operating in a vacuum, but symbiotically, in a partnership.”

Still, the story of the notorious killer consumed McNamara, sometimes for the worse. She leaned on prescription drugs at times to sleep and to concentrate when tensions over the book and subject matter were too much. “I knew that there was an obsessive aspect to what she was doing,” Holes says. “I really wasn’t thinking that she was having any type of trauma as a result of what she was doing on the case. That may have been a massive oversight.”

The subtitle of her 2018 book, then, is starkly apt: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer. A mix of memoir and true crime, it showcases not only the demon that was the GSK — but the demons he stirred within McNamara. She died of an accidental overdose in 2016 without finishing the book; Haynes and crime writer Billy Jensen stepped in at Oswalt’s behest to tie it all together to achieve his wife’s dream. And so powerful was the book that HBO acquired the rights before publication and started work on a series based on it, enlisting the veteran documentary director Liz Garbus to helm the six-part show.

Garbus never met McNamara but was drawn in by her all the same. “I was just blown away by her voice,” she tells Rolling Stone. “I identify so much with Michelle. We were the same age,” she elaborated in a release. “I empathized with her.” Garbus, who’s been nominated for two Oscars (for the 1998 prison doc The Farm: Angola, USA, and 2016’s Nina Simone biopic What Happened, Miss Simone?), is no stranger to true crime. She recently directed the Netflix film Lost Girls, a crime drama centered on the real-life Long Island serial killer and starring Amy Ryan, who also voices McNamara’s character in I’ll Be Gone in the Dark.

Oswalt shared with Garbus countless artifacts and writings from his wife — from photos of her as the large-eyed youngest child of a massive family, to footage of her goofing off in high school, to video of McNamara wrangling her baby, Alice, as she talks about the GSK. “My role [in making the series] was the same as my role when the book was being completed,” Oswalt says. “I handed over materials to professionals who knew how to shape it and tell the story. I contacted all of her family members, all of her friends, went through all of my stuff. I handed over both of Michelle’s laptops, her phone, iPad. Basically put the material in the hands of somebody that I knew could do right by it.”

Armed with McNamara’s physical memories, Garbus made her film into a visual representation of McNamara’s book, which merged her hunt for a killer with her life as a mother and wife. McNamara is all over the doc — a story about how she initially bonded with Oswalt over 1954 classic The Creature From the Black Lagoon becomes a visual motif via old black-and-white movie footage, a stand-in for the GSK, who hunts his victims via the waterways of California. Her diary entries and articles serve as voiceovers. Her office is recreated painstakingly — complete with a pinboard crowded with both clues about the GSK and her child’s art. Most strikingly, however, her empathy for and close relationships with the GSK’s rape survivors — along with Garbus’ expert filmmaking — put the film’s emphasis not so much on the monster but on the humanity he tried (and failed) to strip away.

“We approached [the film] from her point of view,” Garbus says. “I think that the focal point is what happened to all of these incredible survivors during this period in which the Golden State Killer was active — and Michelle’s drive to crack the case.” The docuseries showcases McNamara’s deft handling of rough subject matter — as she interviews one survivor, she commiserates with the woman about her relationship with her mother, letting slip that her own mom used to slide notes under her door when she was angry instead of openly discussing their issues. Garbus’ doc echoes McNamara’s respect for these traumatized women. “Some of them were folks who hadn’t spoken before,” Garbus says of the women who appear in the show. “I think they knew we were going to take this case very seriously. And we had the approach that Michelle had, which was very survivor-oriented.”

“She was very easygoing,” Holes recalls of McNamara’s interview style. “I kind of have the same kind of thing, same skill set — because I was a military brat and constantly having to integrate with new kids as I was growing up, from all the moves. She was able to integrate with different people. And I think that benefited her tremendously.”

“The word that kept surfacing for me while viewing the series was ‘loving,’” Haynes adds. “It’s both a loving tribute to Michelle as well as the definitive motion-picture document of the case, obliterating everything else that’s preceded it. When I talk about Michelle with people, I often hear ‘I wish I could have known her.’ Watch this docuseries, and you’ll know her.”

Viewers will also come to know the survivors. We see them puttering in their gardens, visiting Paris on a hard-won trip, embracing each other at a backyard party after the alleged GSK is caught — which happened, coincidentally, just as the documentary began filming. McNamara’s book came out in February of 2018 — and former cop Joseph James DeAngelo was arrested on April 24, 2018, on the strength of DNA evidence. He is charged with 13 felony counts of murder with special circumstances and 13 counts of kidnapping to commit robbery (related to his sexual assault cases).

“It was literally the first day of filming,” Oswalt says, laughing. “We had done a book reading in Chicago that night, and we all went to bed, and we woke up the next morning and the news was out that he had been captured and arrested. And you see that in the documentary. My reaction. We’re all just like, ‘What? Where do we go from here?’”

As it turned out, DeAngelo’s arrest didn’t change much about the original thrust of the show — the story is not about the now-frail old man in a wheelchair, a specter who has yet to publicly utter a word about the case. His next hearing is June 29th; Garbus and Holes plan to watch, Oswalt does not. “I wanted to approach it as a journey of investigation that Michelle was going on that we would go along with her,” Garbus says. “Of course, once you find out who this person [DeAngelo] is, as a filmmaker it’s irresistible to want to know more. But really, the film is about the survivors and Michelle.”

One of the last parts of the doc was shot first — that book event in Chicago, where survivors and readers mingled with Oswalt and other friends of McNamara. It’s a joyful scene, one that stands in sharp contrast to the dark tales of the GSK’s misdeeds and machinations. Oswalt remembers being overcome by meeting these people — by chatting with the women who had lived in his wife’s head for so many years. Who had, in some cases, become her friends. “It’s overwhelming, but it’s hopeful,” he says of the legacy McNamara left behind. “It means that she’s not really gone.”

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