The Lady and the Dale

TV review by
Melissa Camacho, Common Sense Media
The Lady and the Dale TV Poster Image
Intelligent docu reveals a complex, criminal life.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

It highlights how one’s gender identity is a private issue, despite whatever public behavior the person engages in. The ill-defined descriptions and mischaracterizations of what being transgender means are also explored.

Positive Role Models

Elizabeth Carmichael is identified as both a criminal and as a transgender person. Dick Carlson, like many people at the time, was openly transphobic. 

Violence

There’s a brief reference to an abusive father. Running from the law, being sent to prison, and related criminal themes are present. There are some subtle hints of working with the mafia, too. 

Sex

Gender identity and gender transitioning are themes. There’s some innuendo, as well as conversations about flirting, eloping, failed marriages, and having children. 

Language

Words like "damn," "ass," and "hell," and curses like "s--t" are sometimes used.

Consumerism

Major car brands like GMC and Ford are discussed, but in relation to the automotive industry and market. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Lady and the Dale is a documentary series that features mature topics ranging from white collar crimes and children growing up as fugitives to gender transitioning and transphobia. There’s some innuendo, and conversations about eloping, failed marriages, and having children. Cursing is sometimes audible and includes "s--t," "damn," "ass," and "hell." Automotive companies like GM and Ford are also discussed, but within the context of the story. 

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What's the story?

Co-produced by Jay and Mark Duplass, THE LADY AND THE DALE is a documentary series about the complicated life of con artist Elizabeth Carmichael. In 1974, in the midst of the oil crisis, Liz Carmichael founded the Twentieth Century Motor Car Company and promoted "The Dale," an inexpensive, three-wheeled, futuristic car that would help people save gas and disrupt the auto manufacturing industry. But the overall enterprise was a scam, and Carmichael and her partners defrauded investors and consumers of millions of dollars. But what made the story sensational was the fact that Carmichael is a trans woman, and that her previous identity was that of wanted fugitive Jerry Dean Michael. As a result, the media coverage of the details surrounding Carmichael’s illegal antics were combined with the private story of her transition and gender identity, creating a publicly misguided and highly transphobic narrative that impacted the way she was perceived by the justice system. With the help of folks like Carmichael’s daughter Candi, her brother-in-law Charles Barrett, personal artifacts, archived news footage, and animated recreations of events, the life experiences that define Liz Carmichael as a fraudster, a loving parent, and as a trans woman are explored separately, and as part of a larger, and almost unbelievable narrative. 

Is it any good?

The intelligent four-part docuseries chronicles the life of one of America’s greatest scam artists, and the transphobic narratives that were eventually used to against her. It highlights how Liz Carmichael’s spent her early years, during which time she lived as the charming Jerry Dean Michael, who lied about his background, married multiple women, sired many children, and worked small-time scams, some of which were more successful than others. It also describes the many years she spent living as a fugitive with her wife, Vivian, and their five children. Those who knew her also note how she was a loving mother and entrepreneur who had finally come to terms with who she was later in life, and how she transitioned with the knowledge and support of her family.   

Throughout these conversations, no one denies that Liz Carmichael was a criminal. But The Lady And The Dale also sheds light on how, thanks to journalists like Dick Carlson (father of Fox network commentator Tucker Carlson) became one of the first trans people in U.S. history to be ‘outed’ by the media, and how the private subject of her sexual identity was publicly mischaracterized and exploited as a result. The challenges Carmichael faced in custody as a trans woman remind viewers of the systemic obstacles the transgender community continues to experience today. Overall, it’s a documentary that tells the extraordinary tale of an intelligent, creative, and unethical wrong doer who was more vilified for who she was than the criminal acts she committed.   

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how viewers are supposed to feel about Liz Carmichael after watching this documentary. Is her history of criminal activity in any way related to her gender identity? What is problematic about that assessment?

  • What does The Lady and the Dale reveal about the way media has historically stereotyped transgender people? How has representation of transgender people in TV and movies evolved since the 1970s? 

TV details

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