Bad Vegan keeps up bad habit for Netflix true crime docs
Bad Vegan is the latest Netflix documentary to turn a fascinating story into an unnecessary drag.
Since the explosion of Tiger King at the start of the pandemic, Netflix has tried to establish itself as the home of true crime, whether it's tackling grisly cold cases in Unsolved Mysteries or shining a light on the unbelievable story behind Fyre: The Greatest Festival That Never Happened.
On the whole, the streamer has been fairly successful in this endeavour; you only have to scroll down the platform's documentaries page to find hugely-watched hits like Worst Roommate Ever, Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich and Making a Murderer.
However, Netflix's latest foray into the genre with Bad Vegan – a look at restauranteur Sarma Melngailis and the events leading up to her arrest for fraud – proves the streamer still hasn't fixed its predominant problem around some docuseries: that they're just far too long.
There's nothing wrong with a long documentary necessarily, just look at Disney Plus mammoth The Beatles: Get Back which in typical Peter Jackson fashion, spanned across almost eight hours of television. Despite the unappetising running time, every minute of Get Back is worth it, giving fans a never-before-seen look at how the music legends made some of their biggest hits.
Unfortunately the same can't be said for true crime documentaries like Bad Vegan, which dampen a fascinating story with its bloated episodes. The four-parter explores Melngailis's rise to fame as a vegan celebrity and the founder of New York's Pure Food and Wine before looking into her strange relationship with Anthony Strangis – a mysterious figure who went on to be her husband and Melngailis claims convinced her that he could make her dog immortal if she sent him large amounts of money.
The story of how a successful businesswoman became a fugitive after sending her husband almost $2 million and failing to pay her restaurant employees is without a doubt documentary-worthy, but turning a single Vanity Fair piece into four hours of television feels excessive when you're hearing yet another conversation between Melngailis and Strangis that adds little to the narrative.
This isn't the first time a Netflix limited series hasn't been limited enough – take Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel as an example. The Joe Berlinger docuseries took the tragic death of Elisa Lam and stretched it across four hour-long episodes, puffed out with tactless dramatisations, ridiculous conspiracy theories and a messy narrative that left a sour aftertaste.
In a way similar way, the Tiger King franchise has become a victim of Netflix not knowing when to quit. The first season was one of the most-talked about pieces of entertainment of 2020 and for good reason – its seven episodes were packed full of wild testimonials about the stranger-than-fiction big cat community in America, never straying from the overall story arc that ended with Joe Exotic going to prison for attempted murder for hire.
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The show brought out a second season last year, which was critically panned for its murky timeline and repetitive plot points, making the five-parter feel completely unnecessary. On top of that, Netflix went on to release spin-off The Doc Antle Story, hammering the final nail in the Tiger King coffin and making us all wish we'd never heard of Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin in the first place.
Let's not forget that Netflix has struck documentary gold on some occasions over the last year – with the meme-rich film that is The Tinder Swindler immediately coming to mind. Coming in at just under two hours, the documentary looked at the case of conman Simon Leviev, who tricked various women into sending him huge sums of money over a number of years, with the film taking a turn when his victims decide to seek their own revenge.
Effective and to the point, The Tinder Swindler knows it can tell this terrifying yet absorbing story in 114 minutes and sticks to it. Netflix filmmakers would benefit from being more self-aware when it comes to padding out their true crime titles, as we all know that quality is always valued over quantity.
Bad Vegan is available to stream on Netflix. If you're looking for more to watch, check out our TV Guide. Check out our Documentaries hub for all the latest news.
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