I’ve never seen BREAKING BAD, MAD MEN or GAME OF THRONES but I have seen all 400+ episodes of FORENSIC FILES. My contribution to “quarantine culture” is this carefully curated list of my 15 favorite episodes. I hope this comes in handy for anyone looking for something to binge watch:
15. WATER LOGGED (Season 14, Episode 11)
An Ohio woman takes her teenage daughters on vacation to Florida but they never return home. This is, for my money, the most horrific of all FF episodes and the only one that I can’t bear to rewatch. The details of how these women were murdered are burned into my brain, however, and it therefore deserves a place on this list. Also fascinating is the way the police end up capturing the killer: by posting a suspect’s handwriting on a billboard.
14. INVISIBLE INTRUDER (Season 4, Episode 1)
The Darlie Routier case is famous – she was found guilty of stabbing her 5 and 6-year-old sons to death with a butcher knife and staging the crime scene to look like it was the work of an intruder. Some people still believe Darlie is innocent but the forensics suggest otherwise. What really makes this case interesting to contemplate though is simply trying to fathom her motive.
13. A VOICE FROM BEYOND (Season 5, Episode 4)
This classic episode – about the discovery of a mummified corpse (with a fetus inside of it) stuffed in a barrel in the crawl space of a New York home – is one of the most satisfying from an actual scientific point-of-view. The solution to the mystery points to a tragic 30-year-old love triangle and stretches all the way to El Savador.
12. FAMILY TIES (Season 13, Episode 5)
A college student who is deep in debt kills his father with an ax for some inheritance money. This episode is compelling as a portrait of a young, upper-class psychopath but what really makes it memorable are the disturbing details of how, before dying, the father regained consciousness and, apparently unaware of his mortal wounds, went outside to fetch a newspaper.
11. SIGN OF THE ZODIAC (Season 8, Episode 25)
The New York Zodiac killer, not the San Francisco one! Heriberto Seda terrorized NYC for six years in the ‘90s, killing, at random, three people and wounding five others – all the while mailing taunting letters to the New York Post. The most chilling aspect of this case is how Seda’s claims that his victims would all belong to different astrological signs turned out to be both true and impossible to explain.
10. A BITTER PILL TO SWALLOW (Season 7, Episode 18)
A pregnant woman suspects that her fiancé, a handsome young doctor, has been poisoning her in order to induce a miscarriage. So she decides to take the law into her own hands by making a secret video recording of him fixing her a drink. Much like BAD BLOOD (see #1 on this list), this episode excels by giving viewers a feisty heroine to root for.
9. SIGNED, SEALED, DELIVERED (Season 10, Episode 25)
Three young men in Alaska go for a joyride and intentionally shoot and kill a random passenger in another car. One of the men turns state witness and testifies against his buddies in exchange for immunity but this leads to even more tragic consequences. This crazy episode unfolds like an overly plot twist-filled novel.
8. STRANGER IN THE NIGHT (Season 13, Episode 11)
An elderly woman is stabbed to death with a screwdriver in her Delaware home. Suspicion falls on her son who tells the police an unbelievable story about meeting and getting into a fight with the killer, a total stranger to him, earlier that same night. A darkly ironic episode that must be seen to be believed.
7. THE LIST MURDERS (Season 1, Episode 12)
John List was a devoutly religious accountant who murdered his mother, wife and three children then lived under a new identity for 18 years before being caught. That he was apprehended due to the work of a forensic artist who sculpted an accurate clay bust of his aged appearance is one of the most satisfying conclusions to any FF episode.
6. BAD MEDICINE (Season 9, Episode 8)
The enormously entertaining “Bad Medicine” tells the story of Anthony Pignataro, a bad plastic surgeon (and inventor of the “snap-on toupee!”) who accidentally kills a patient during breast-augmentation surgery. After doing six months in prison for negligent homicide, Pignataro, like some pathetic anti-hero in a Coen brothers’ movie, concocts an outrageous plan to exonerate himself and get his medical license back.
5. TRANSACTION FAILED (Season 12, Episode 6)
FORENSIC FILES frequently deals with the collision between good and bad people but the contrast in this episode is so extreme that it lifts the episode into the realm of the philosophical: Dianey Tilly was a teacher and founder of a school for troubled youth who was nicknamed “the miracle worker.” She meets her death at the hands of a 15-year-old girl (exactly the kind of person Tilly had dedicated her life to helping) and her monster of a father. The story’s heartbreaking conclusion should serve as a kind of Rorschach test for the beliefs of each individual viewer.
4. DEATH PLAY (Season 6, Episode 5)
No one could script anything this rich: a 16-year-old girl poisons her father and would have gotten away with it scot-free except that, a year later, while listening to her best friend recite Claudius’ lines from Shakespeare’s HAMLET, she is provoked into making a spontaneous confession. This episode features witty, salient commentary by Texas Monthly editor Skip Hollandsworth (who would go on to co-write Richard Linklater’s BERNIE).
3. THE WILSON MURDER (Season 1, Episode 8)
The first true FF masterpiece involves a pair of twin sisters in Alabama who are charged with the murder of one of their husbands. Testifying at both trials is an elementary school janitor / bargain-basement hitman whose testimony seems to be unreliable. Fans of “whodunits” will love this for the colorful, eccentric characters and the way it’s impossible to know for sure what really happened.
2. LAST WILL (Season 8, Episode 7)
A lot of the best FF episodes succeed in being either sad or scary. The heart-wrenching “Last Will,” by virtue of having the highest combined average of both of these qualities, is in many ways the ultimate episode of the show. It’s about a teenaged girl who is kidnapped in broad daylight and the sadistic abductor who allows her to write a will that he then mails to her parents after killing her.
1. BAD BLOOD (Season 6, Episode 18)
This Canadian-set episode is endlessly rewatchable: a doctor who drugged and raped one of his patients in the hospital where he works gets away with it initially by inserting a tube of someone else’s blood into his own arm(!), thus allowing him to pass a series of DNA tests. His accuser, a woman identified only as “Candy” (who proves to be a fantastic interview subject), doggedly pursues her claim for years, going so far as to hire a private detective to obtain the doc’s DNA through surreptitious means. Candy is my hero.
- UPDATE (6/14/21) – Over a year after making this post, and re-watching FORENSIC FILES hundreds of times in the interim, I realize there are a few classic episodes that didn’t make this list that probably should have. SEALED WITH A KISS (no one could make up shit this outrageous), A FISHY STORY (which, incredibly, bears a strong resemblance to the plot of Agatha Christie’s THE ABC MURDERS), ROOT OF ALL EVIL (one of the most disturbing installments in the entire series) and SEE NO EVIL (by far the best episode not narrated by the great Peter Thomas) all also deserve a spot on this list.