A Critical Review of FAMILY MAN, FAMILY MURDERER

The 42 minute documentary starts off with a very dark, poignant scene. We see a man with his truck [headlights on] shoveling sand. The voice-over is Shan’ann’s, saying how the man digging her grave is “the best thing that’s ever happened to me…”

It’s powerful. It’s not a bad start, but from a technical perspective, it’s not a great start either.

In the opening montage, a man is digging in a nondescript landfill-type setting. It’s not the well site; it looks nothing like it, and there appears to be a big tree somewhere in the picture. Going into the documentary I was wondering whether Anadarko would be mentioned, and if so, how? This very first scene seems to answer that question. The Anadarko stuff will be blacked out and pushed out of the frame.

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Now, I like true crime dramatizations. They remind us to think practically about a particular crime scene, and they force us to consider what’s plausible and what isn’t. In the above image the shirt might be close to the right color [pink…orange], and the jeans and boots are right, but it’s doubtful Watts would have dug a grave with the car lights shining on him. There was enough ambient light right then, just after dawn, to know what he was doing without artificial light.

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The Trinastich video footage also confirms just how light it was out when Watts pulled out of his driveway, and remember, it was going to be almost another hour after he left before the head of the shovel in the truck nosed into the sand at CERVI 319.

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We see a montage of images from Shan’ann’s social media, and a clip from the Sermon on the Porch where Watts speaks into the camera asking Shan’ann, Bella and Ceecee to “just come home…” An image of Watts with Kessinger appears onscreen within the first minute,  then some strange dude appears, and then District Attorney Michael Rourke is the first heavy-hitter to make  an appearance. Rourke says Watts was saying all the right things, he just wasn’t saying them right. He was just too cold.

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Next the program promises to “explore the transformation” Watts made from family man to monster for the next hour [well, 40 minutes and change].

I like the way Diane Dimond refers to Watts early on as “a dichotomy of personalities”. Another way of saying that is a TWO FACE, right? Next large red text appears above another montage.

DOUBLE LIFE REVEALED

After showing the title [at the 2 minute mark], the scene opens with a pump jack and a well site. It’s August 13th, 2018 according to white text superimposed over a local traffic scene.

And then Dimond begins taking the viewer through the spiel – from Nickole Atkinson’s point of view.  We see another strange and rather unattractive interloper [playing the role of Nickole] and then we see Steve Wrenn, fingers folded, baseball on his desk, apparently in his office.

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Wrenn provides a scintillating insight. “Things weren’t right.” Think about this for a moment. You have the District Attorney appearing in the first minute to say Watts wasn’t acting right, and that everyone could see that [well yes, they could]. Not his deputy is confirming that things weren’t right [yup, that’s what Nickole thought, and…?]

Next the narrative reverts to Rourke. Rourke provides a little insight now. Nickole worked with Shan’ann, for the same company, and they sold the same product. Which company was that? Which products were those? Rourke doesn’t say. This documentary has promised to show how Watts has transformed into monster, right?

A voiceover [flashing to an aerial shot of Phoenix] mentions a business trip and Le-Vel, but that’s it. Nothing about the kind of company, or that it’s a MLM.
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Next the narrative deals with the pregnancy and health issues. Now we have another reporter, this time from the Denver Post, providing more overview. Then it’s back to Rourke. Rourke explains what Nickole was doing. Checking her phone, wasn’t Shan’ann supposed to be at a doctor’s appointment, this and that. There’s a lot more to it than that, but this is just lightly ticking the narrative boxes – and 4 minutes have already blown by.

Where’s Nickole though? Is she not giving interviews?

Then there’s a dramatization of Nickole arriving at the Watts home. The Watts home isn’t used, and Nickole’s son and daughter aren’t in the frame. The make of the car [Hyundai Elantra instead of a Mazda GT] looks wrong, where its parked is wrong, but the color is right.

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The clothing the Nickole stand-in is wearing is similar to the camouflage shirt Nickole wore, the white glasses propped on her forehead are a match, and the busy-on-the-phone vibe, but where’s her son Nicolas?

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Just before 5 minutes, Wrenn is back to tell us Chris Watts worked in the “oil field industry”. Wow. Nice and vanilla.

“He was a supervisor and typically visited various well sites…throughout the day.” Cue a nondescript pump jack.

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So far no mention of Anadarko, or the fact that Watts work involved the maintenance of fracking batteries. So far, we’re still getting the vanilla version, an ultra superficial version simply recapping the basic case, with prosecutors interspersed with reporters doing the job of a narrative run-through. Some of the reporters are not terribly affiliated with this case.

Next Nickole’s actual 911 call is played. It’s not the first time it’s even been on television but kudos for at least having something authentic and not necessarily easy to get hold of onscreen.

Then we dive into bodycam footage, with Nicolas appearing but his face smudged out. At 6 minutes, Rourke is back to provide some insight. Coonrod can’t just kick down the door and walk in, and so on and so forth. So far there has been zero reference to any actual text messages or the times they were sent. That’s 6 minutes, that’s enough. Let’s hear some of your thoughts and observations, and if need be I’ll post a follow-up on the rest of the documentary.

9 thoughts on “A Critical Review of FAMILY MAN, FAMILY MURDERER

  1. It ignored any of the “troubling” facts that could contribute to a story about premeditation: nothing about the mortgage and bankruptcy problems, the fight between Shanann and the in-laws, Chris going to N.C. and being extremely distant, his calling his coworker the night before to confirm that he was going directly to the site on his own, etc. The “second confession” was depicted as the truth instead. I thought the re-enactment of what happened between Chris and Shanann distasteful and misleading. Also something I found confusing: in his second confession I thought he said he buried Shan’ann before killing the girls but in the doc it’s reversed. Or did I get that mixed up?

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    • Ah—never mind on that last question. I did mix that up; the confession doc does have him burying her last after putting the girls in the tanks.

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      • The burial part I would assume actually played out like that. Children disposed in tanks first, not a quick or easy disposal in itself, then the 20 minute job of digging a grave, filling it back up and raking it over. He would definitely have needed a change of clothes after that.

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  2. For me it was “much ado about nothing”. A watery distillation (with tons of vanilla added) of everything everybody already knows backwards and forwards. The whole timing of this seems odd. I also thought it strange that quite a few scenes were reenacted with paid actors when the actual footage is out there. I actually enjoyed Nick’s retelling more! Kaye, I believe Chris said he first removed Shanann’s body from the truck and laid it on the ground and then he killed and disposed of the girls and then went about digging the grave and burying Shanann.

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  3. Many critical pieces of this case were left out in the doc.
    Wrapped the narrative up in an hour.
    This is similar to how quickly the case was closed.
    The case isn’t closed though, is it?
    There’s a lot of evidence kept from the public.
    Many truths kept under wraps.
    Justice is not complete in this case.

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  4. Just a few other little nuances. I too like recreated scenarios. And we see in the opening shot Chris is in a billed hat. Or baseball cap as some call it. So aha – that was Chris at the Conoco Station paying for a breakfast burrito. Where did he change out of his black t shirt and into the orange one? I suspect the Conoco station restroom – and it might have been there that he disposed of his black shirt. But of course that wouldn’t be on the ID discovery documentary.

    Also the narration goes on to say that her apple iwatch was found in the house – but the camera pans around to Chris’s iwatch on the nightstand on his side of the bed. Some will believe that was her iwatch. It would have been great to have seen a camera shot, even if just a recreated one, of her actual iwatch wedged down in the loft sofa cushions. And her phone.

    They insert the video cam of Chris running to greet Officer Coonrod with a handshake, his other hand full of items from his truck. I had almost forgotten how buoyant he was that day, for someone who had been up all night, then dunking and digging.

    Then, sadly, we see Chris standing in the bedroom doorway arguing with Sha’nann. Suddenly he springs on top of her but now she’s prone, under the covers, and her left arm dangles down to the side of the bed – and I saw no wedding ring. We know he removed it, he said so himself, so it should have been on her hand in the recreation.

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    • Good point. I was also expecting [during the voiceover] to see the gadgets in situ. No such luck. And well spotted on the wedding ring. It’s kinda ridiculous that one has to do diligence on the inaccuracies of these shows as well.

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  5. The audience this documentary was catering to are clearly people who have just arrived on the planet Earth. I watched it and was not impressed because of the lack of insight. I also tire easily of documentaries these days that advertise how they will reveal shocking new details, when those details have already been out for months. Lazy journalism!

    I also found an article on the web that described what this documentary had in store for viewers. I should also mention that this documentary was described as the first one released after Watt’s conviction. Well I guess it was about timing, not relevant facts or in depth analysis. Here are some quotes from the article…

    “In a case that has captivated the public’s attention in recent months” (try from day #1)…

    Discovery (ID) explores what drove a seemingly normal family man to snap in the one-hour special event (not realistic at all to be able to cover this in an hour, and it’s even less time with commercials! That should have been the first clue that this wasn’t going to be a good documentary)…

    “As the first and only network to produce a deep dive into this tragedy, we understand the responsibility we have to show the truth behind a story that follows the actions of a man unhinged.” (Deep dive? Must have been a dive into a baby pool at a public swimming facility since Watts’s second confession is all the further you need to go to hear the “truth”, case closed.)

    “Interviews with those familiar with the tragedy and experts who have covered this case extensively round out the intensive documentary research.” (Extensively covered case? Intensive research?)

    The only person that did this is Nick V. and what an amazing documentary that would have been. The producers should have known that most people who are interested in this case have seen all the information via internet access. How about challenging the viewer to use their brain to figure out why this happened instead of taking the word of the prosecutor as we will never know why this happened? Nick you seriously need to have your own cable network show!

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