A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Murder on Middle Beach is a documentary series about a son’s efforts to learn more about his mother and the details surrounding her unsolved murder. There’s some limited description of brutal wounds, occasional heated discussions, drinking, smoking, and some cursing ("s--t, "f--k," "goddamn.") It’s also full of mature themes, including addiction, family dysfunction, unethical and illegal financial schemes, and mental illness. Grieving is also briefly discussed. It’s intended for adults, but older, mature teens may be able to handle it.
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What's the story?
MURDER ON MIDDLE BEACH is a four-part documentary series that follows a young filmmaker’s personal investigation into his family’s own true crime drama. On March 3, 2010, Barbara Beach Hamburg was found murdered in the yard of her rental property on Middle Beach Road, located in a wealthy suburb of Connecticut. Now, her adult son Madison is interviewing his extended family to learn more about his late mother. He also uses the opportunity to try to eliminate lingering suspicions about the possible involvement of certain family members in her death, including those surrounding his evasive father, former Southern Electric CEO Jefferey Hamburg. As Madison does his research and talks to family, friends, and law enforcement, he learns just how complicated his mother’s life was, and finds himself pursuing unexpected leads. He also begins to question how well the local police handled the case from the beginning.
Is it any good?
This compelling documentary, which began as a college project, follow’s a young man’s difficult journey as he tries to make sense of who his late mother was, and what happened to her. Some of Madison Hamburg’s filmmaking efforts are dedicated to learning more about his mom while simultaneously coming to terms with the trauma he’s experienced from her death. But the overall production is more expository, and it highlights the many ideas and feelings people have about what led up to, and who committed, the murder. Scenes featuring the documentarian secretly (and legally) recording conversations add an investigative dimension to his work. The on-going efforts made by Madison and his team to follow up on potential leads, despite resistance from the local police department, also raise some interesting questions.
As the project evolves, so do the details surrounding Barbara Beach Hamburg’s life, and that of her family. Some of these particulars, such as her involvement with a publicly infamous "gifting table" pyramid scheme (which eventually led to the incarceration of Barbara’s great aunt, Jill Platt), adds an intriguing dimension to the narrative. But Madison doesn’t refrain from asking family members hard questions, which leads to some extremely raw and personal interview moments that highlight how the family has been torn apart. The way he attempts to balance his work as a filmmaker, while simultaneously breaking the fourth wall to discuss his own emotional struggles throughout the process, are both impressive and poignant. If you like documentaries, Murder on Middle Beach offers a complex but well-told story that is worth tuning into.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the different kinds of media people create to cope with loss. How can producing a documentary, writing and recording a song, or even writing a TV situation comedy help people grieve or move on with their lives?
Murder on Middle Beach evolved from a college student film about Barbara Beach Hamburg to an investigative TV documentary that raises a lot of questions about her death. But was the series produced in an attempt to solve the murder? Or is it about Madison Hamburg’s attempts to learn more about it?
What’s the difference between a TV documentary series and reality or unscripted series? How do you differentiate between the two genres?
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