An Entertaining - But Not Flawless - Guilty Pleasure
First off, this series explores a realm where few other true-crime shows fail to tread - the world of female killers. That alone makes this show unique and worth a look. It combines re-enactments (in fact, 100% re-enactments - no actual photos of the perpetrators or victims are ever shown) with interviews with experts such as former FBI profiler Candice DeLong (who appears in every episode) and others related to the cases. Except for a few early episodes, all the cases profiled are from English-speaking countries - the United States, the U.K., Canada, and Australia usually. And the warning at the beginning of each episode should be taken very seriously - the re-enactments are often extremely violent and don't spare the gory details.
The cases profiled run the gamut from women who killed their children (several episodes deal with that subject) to torture slayers to thrill killers to black widows. In fact, the number of episodes dealing with mothers who murder their children is staggering - "Kill Their Own," "The Sacred Bond," "Sacrifice Their Blood," and "Bury Their Babies" to name just a few - and these are often the hardest to watch. Given that the series is still going strong after four years, they have yet to run out of sexy stories about "deadly women." Watching this show can be a real education on some of the most notorious female murderers of all time. It's also extremely addictive and I never miss a new episode.
That said, this show isn't perfect, and there are a few issues I have with it.
First, the narration and the writing in the re-enactments are often needlessly lurid and over-the-top (in earlier episodes, it is less so). When the narrator reads lines like "Children rely on their mother for nourishment, but tonight, Lydia (Sherman) is serving death," I can't help but start giggling, even though the subject matter isn't at all funny.
Second, as I mentioned above, photographs of the perpetrators and their victims are never shown, and although there are occasional black-and-white freeze-frames, these are obviously of the actors and not actual photos of those involved, and this makes it difficult to take the show seriously at times and robs it of some authenticity, if that makes any sense. There are times when the actors look nothing at all like the real people, as was the case with Beverley Allitt, the British nurse who was jailed for murdering four infant children in the early 1990s.
Third, this show is made in Australia, which means the roles in the dramatizations are all played by Australian actors. Obviously this isn't a problem for stories that took place in Australia, but when it comes to stories that took place in the United States, where the dialect of English spoken is quite different, it can, again, be a problem in terms of authenticity/believability. The scripts contain a lot of Australian-isms that Americans wouldn't say - such as using the word "tart" to describe a man's mistress, or using the word "bashing" to describe a beating - and the actors do varying jobs of hiding their Australian accents, which some (like Andrew Fritz, who is actually an American living in Australia) do remarkably well while others don't even try. I feel if they wanted to use non-American talent to save costs, they should have used Canadian actors for the American and Canadian cases. On the other hand, the acting itself is usually very good and the actors themselves (aside from the occasional failure to hide the Australian accent when needed) are talented, and the actresses portraying the "deadly women" usually do a very good job of making the subject seem extra scary (see Susan Eubanks and Tillie Gburek).
Now it may seem like I'm really ragging on this show, but as I said, despite its faults, it's extremely addictive and even more than a little educational. The interview segments with forensic pathologist Janis Amatuzio are particularly interesting, as one can learn all kinds of interesting things about the human body and how it reacts to certain things that are done to it.
Despite the occasional "tabloid"-ish nature of some of the stories and occasional credibility issues based on the production values, and despite what I feel is occasionally an over-reliance on violence and gore, this is an engaging and entertaining show, and a fun way to pass an evening. Never before has the subject of female killers seemed so enticing. However, it's not recommended for the weak of stomach.