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True Crime Docuseries Review: How To Fix A Drug Scandal


 Netflix's How to Fix a Drug Scandal was released on April 1, 2020.  Sadly, the story being told was not an April Fool's joke.  It tells the tale of two drug lab chemists, Annie Dookhan and Sonja Farak, whose misconduct lead to thousands of drug charges having to be dismissed.

Directed by Erin Lee Carter, the prime sources of information come from journalists and defence attorneys who worked to find out the truth of what happened.  After Dookhan's misconduct of falsifying reports became known, the Attorney General of Massachusetts, Martha Coakley seemed to downplay the case with Farak, who was accused of using drugs within the lab.  The Dookhan incident proved to be costly, on account of many drugs charges she was involved with needing to be dismissed, as well as being embarrassing for the Attorney General and prosecutors.

A lot of times, the idea of a conspiracy is easy to dismiss, as a lot of us don't want to be those people with tin foil hats thinking that there is a grander power that is manipulating things.  In this case, the conspiracy was true.  Coakley and others actively tried to limit the information of Farak's deeds, illegally keeping key information from defence attorney's.

Carter does a great job of conveying the story through this four episode series, although for the first few instalments it is unclear just how connected everything is.  While interesting enough, it feels slow and drawn out.  When the viewer gets to the end of this docuseries, everything is now understood in a much better context.

If you are a regular reader, you will know full well that I almost universally dislike re-enactments in documentaries and docuseries.  Sometimes, however, it can really work.  In How to Fix a Drug Scandal, there is a re-enactment of Farak's grand jury testimony, with Shannon O'Neill playing Farak.  Her performance is great, as it comes across just like you would imagine a person on the stand would act.  

These sequences are shot well, and it blends perfectly with the rest of the series elements, making it easy to forget that this wasn't actual footage of the testimony.  A job well done to Carter and everyone involved.  This is exactly how re-enactments should be employed.  Unfortunately, this is very rare, but it illustrates in the right hands and the proper context re-enactments can be beneficial to the narrative.

The main impact of How to Fix a Drug Scandal is confirming that sometimes the grand conspiracy theory is actually correct.  I totally get that people do not like being embarrassed, but in the realm of law, everything should be impartial and in search of the truth.  This series is a reminder that sometimes egos can cause powerful people to act out of self interest instead of those of society.

There are a lot of docuseries that feel generic, especially on Netflix, and the basic structure of this one doesn't vary much from the standard format of modern docuseries.  The production is good, and it is the interviews and story itself that allow How to Fix a Drug Scandal to work.  If you give it a shot, just remember that the first few episodes may feel a little slow, but the end result is worth pushing through for.

Rating - 3 out of 4 stars


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