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TV Series Review

More than 17,000 people were murdered in 2017—1,830 in California alone. Each is a tragedy, of course. But if we're not linked to a case in some way, we quickly forget. We shake our heads, cluck our tongues and go about our day. Our brains just don't have the capacity to process the horror of each and every death.

But some murder stories set up camp. We can't forget them, even if we'd want to. And perhaps no murder victim has become so enshrined in the country's collective morbid memory as the so-called "Black Dahlia"—so much so that more than 70 years after Elizabeth Short's tragic death, we're still talking about it, still theorizing over what really happened to her.

And, of course, Hollywood's still making television shows predicated on that grisly crime, too.

Touch of Evil

The Black Dahlia case was already old news in 1965, when TNT's miniseries I Am the Night opens. Elizabeth Short's mutilated body had been buried 18 years by the time Fauna Hodel leaves Sparks, Nevada, to meet her grandfather—a well-connected Los Angeles doctor named George Hodel. "I want to know where I come from," she tells a stranger at the bus stop on her way to L.A. "And who I am."

She's not the only one looking to get to know George a little better, though. Journalist Jay Singletary has his eye on the good doctor, too. Back when he was covering the Black Dahlia case in 1947, the mysterious Hodel was rumored to be one of the murder's prime suspects. But Hodel's power and connections proved to be too much for one enterprising journalist to overcome: The story destroyed his career and nearly killed him, too. "Some stories you can't tell," another journalist sagely intones. "Some stories don't want to be told."

Now, Jay's and Fauna's own stories intersect as family ties, racial tensions and murder all swirl into an intoxicating and toxic stew in the heart of L.A., the City of Angels.

Trouble Indelibly

Directed by Patty Jenkins and starring Chris Pine (who collaborated a couple years earlier for a little movie called Wonder Woman), I Am the Night is a moody, film-noir affair tucked away on TNT—and one based on a true story, no less. But despite its pedigree and clearly strong ambitions, the miniseries falls short.

Obviously, given the story's sordid underpinnings, I Am the Night hardly qualifies as "family friendly" viewing. Remember, Short wasn't just killed: Her body was horrifically disfigured—the unholy product of a deeply disturbed mind and surgically skilled hands. The series doesn't just poke around at the mystery surrounding the Black Dahlia, but the depravity and perhaps insanity at the case's core.

It'd be disturbing enough for many if I Am the Night stopped there, with those mere disturbing inferences, but it doesn't: It takes us to crime scenes and morgues, where bodies sometimes look as though they're disassembled jigsaw puzzles. (The camera doesn't linger on such images, but they're still briefly visible.)

I Am the Night also offers plenty of atmosphere and makes some effort to explore issues such as racism. (Fauna was the product of the union between George's 15-year-old daughter and a black man, and the family shuffled the baby off to a black woman to raise to avoid the scandal.) But the story feels—perhaps like the Black Dahlia killer himself—more than a little unhinged.

'Course, TNT isn't expecting a lot of support from the Plugged In crowd. The show's whole appeal, beyond the big names involved, is its tawdry, tantalizing setup: It's the television equivalent of walking through grimy city streets at 2 a.m. to visit a scandalous nightclub. You're not there in spite of the darkness: You're there because of it.

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Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

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Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Jan. 28, 2019: "Pilot"



Readability Age Range



Chris Pine as Jay Singletary; India Eisley as Pat Faison/Fauna Hodel; Jefferson Mays as George Hodel; Dylan Smith as Sepp; Shoniqua Shandai as Tina; Golden Brooks as Jimmy Lee; Jay Paulson as Ohls; Justin Cornwell as Terrence Shye






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On Video

Year Published



Paul Asay

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