I've always been a bit of a crime junkie, including the more, for some people anyway, morbid or queasy biological aspects. I was actually late into getting cable but the moment I did I was hooked on channels that showed killer profiles and gooey medical surgeries. Naturally, when HBO started their Autopsy series of doc specials, I was glued to the set. I was also pleased to find that it prominently featured a man whose book "Unnatural Death: Confessions of a Medical Examiner" was on my shelf alongside books by the likes of Robert Ressler, John Douglass, and Weegee. As the series progressed, director of the NYPD Medical Legal Investigation Unit and former NYC Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Michael Baden became more and more the shows poster boy which led to the past two specials revolving around him- the first Ask Dr. Baden where he responds directly to people who wrote in about cases to HBO's website and this one, Postmordem, where he discusses some of his more famous case subjects. Actually, as a popular figure in the crime community, he often comes under fire because he lends his expertise for quite a price in high profile crime cases, for instance, recently he was reportedly paid a quarter of a million in the Phil Spector case.
Autopsy: Postmordem starts off with the big guns blazing (pun intended) by tackling the JFK assassination. To conspiracy theorists dismay, Baden was part of a government issued re-examination of the case in the late 70's. He basically details how the shock and dismay over the presidents assassination lead to a snowball effect of unintentional mistakes- pathologist's original notes being so nervously blood-splattered he had to ditch them and half-reconstruct them later, to the Secret Service kicking out the normal hospital autopsy photographer in order to use a less experienced agent, to the tissues, brain, and other samples being given to the Kennedy family to bury.
Next up is Orenthal James Simpson. A famous one and Baden was there with Dr. Henry Lee at the actual crime scene. Again, like the Kennedy case, Baden details the missteps that law enforcement respondents made at the scene- Nicole Simpson's body left there for 10 hours after it was found, blood spatter on her back (presumably from the attacker) wasn't sampled, cops and detectives treading footprints everywhere. He also discusses how it was a case that he took some heat from his law enforcement buddies because he witnessed for the prosecution, but he remains steadfast in his opinion that the science indicates the crime scene was badly handled and the prosecutors insistance to pursue just Simpson alone (Baden insists the scene indicated at least two attackers as did, if he was involved, OJ's timeline the night of the murders) was narrow-minded.
For me, the least interesting case was next, the murder of the Romanov family. Basically, he just talks about how roughly a year after the supposed mass grave of the deposed and murdered Russian royal family was found he and some other experts DNA tested the bodies and came up with matches for enough of them to know it was the Romanov's. One of the missing members was young Anastasia, who a woman named Anna Anderson claimed to be, and again DNA testing proves whether she was a fraud or truly the spared member of the royal family.
Baden then gets his punk with the Sid Vicious-Nancy Spungen case. Again, Baden was at the scene after Sid made that fateful call to the Chelsea Hotel staff that, "Someone is sick. I need help," that someone being a fatally stabbed Spungen in the hotel room bathroom. Baden details why it was pretty clear that the death was a homicide, not suicide, and also discusses the subsequent death by overdose of Vicious many months later and why that death appears to be death by misadventure rather than, as some theorize, a guilty and/or depression-induced suicide.
The final subject is a heart breaker, more so than usual for the series, because it involves the rescue respondents to 9/11. Baden is part of a legal investigation team into the overwhelming number of cases where thousands of policemen, fireman, volunteers, etc who helped in the aftermath of the Twin Towers collapse are now coming down with lung diseases due to breathing in the toxic, debris-ridden air.
The special is kinda' top heavy. The capper is touching, has a different non-celebrity/(in)famous slant, so it should remain at the end, but the rest of the subjects should probably play in reverse. In terms of notoriety and actual curious depth, it starts at the top and ends at the bottom. This is actually among my least favorite of the specials because the bulk of the series had a great real/pre-CSI focus on odd cases, ones you didnt know about, therefore there was always a bit more mystery and curiosity at play. Postmordem goes over details and backs up facts most (informed) people already knew, it is just that Baden is giving a more, dry first-person account rather than, how we are used to seeing him, pontificating in a courtroom. The only plus is how the first two subjects address the unfortunate factor in crime, that the chaos and shock of an event can even rile those who should be accustomed to handling the situation, leading to errors that severely hamper proper analysis and lead to confusion.
The DVD: HBO Home Video.
Fullscreen, standard. Pretty basic documentary stuff. You have your standard mix of grainy archival footage, atmospherically filmed interview and reenacted segments, and zoom&panned crime scene stills. Technically sound. Not much to muck up here.
2.0 Stereo English or Spanish language tracks. English subtitles and Close-Captioning. Likewise, purely the basics. Crisp and clear from the velvet yet creepy tones of narrator Marlene Sanders to the eerie scoring.
Well, it all boils down to content and price, and $19.99 for one 60 minute show with no extras is a tad steep. Obviously, HBO is only aiming at the hardcore fan because I cannot fathom a casual fan or an HBO subscriber, who can find the show on repeat airings or possibly OnDemand, giving up $15-$20 for a barebones single special.