Review: AFTER NEVERLAND on HBO

By Josh Muchly

Disclaimer: The following is not a defense of any individual who grooms, abuses or silences children.

Upshot: AFTER NEVERLAND is an hour-long Q&A panel featuring Oprah, Wade Robson, James Safechuck and Dan Reed, who’s the director of LEAVING NEVERLAND.

Rundown: AFTER NEVERLAND feels like a mess from start to finish. It is not a worthy companion piece to LEAVING NEVERLAND.

It feels too “gotcha.” We’re re-introduced to Robson and Safechuck immediately after they (with an audience of a hundred other [alleged] abuse survivors) have finished viewing LEAVING NEVERLAND. Safechuck is crying; nervous. He is visibly upset (if not disturbed) while Mr. Robson comes across as overly comfortable — almost as if he’s Mr. Safechuck’s media-ready spokesperson, as opposed to his equal.

All the while Oprah makes it too “jokey.” There’s zingers being thrown around left and right, the frequency of which distract from the serious subject matter. Much of the humor falls flat, both as comedy as well as attempts to make Wade and James more likable (which is unnecessary in the first place).

As is the case in LEAVING NEVERLAND, the underlying assumption is that Wade and James are telling the truth. And fair enough! But it feels like HBO is still “selling” their claims: this time we’re supposed to believe Wade and James because they seem convincing to the other victims of abuse who are in attendance, not because the facts make a compelling case. Why couldn’t Oprah have just interviewed them without all the hullabaloo? Why did there even need to be a live audience? Talk about selling past the close!

Moreover, consider this article about how you “must” watch this hour-long special when you’ve finished viewing LEAVING NEVERLAND; why must you? Wasn’t the documentary sufficient? If not, why? Perhaps this is more of a criticism towards HBO than anything else, but, still – “Leaving” and “After” have been packaged together, so it seems a valid criticism.

Highpoint: AFTER NEVERLAND is simultaneously a successful marketing scheme for LEAVING NEVERLAND and platform the victims of sexual abuse. It is unquestionably good that Wade and James have not been silenced by either an apathetic public or a private estate. So, at least, there’s that.

Lowpoint: the gimmicks, or antics, or what-have-you which takes the convincing testimony of these two men and turns it into a poor sales pitch.

Rating: 2/7

Postscript: Will Mr. Robson’s and Mr. Safechucks’ claims ever be proven? Maybe not. But, I’m glad that these two men have been able to create a national conversation because the question remains: why did it take SO long for these claims to matter? This is not the first time Michael Jackson has been accused, so why only now — after his death and his power has dwindled — are we listening?

What does that say about us?

Josh Muchly can be contacted at josh.muchly@gmail.com. Follow me @muchlymedia on Twitter.

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