3 out of 5
Created by: Jay Cheel, Mike Mildon, Jackson Rowe (written by)
I’m gonna go with fiction being a bit more compelling than truth this time out.
Sharing producers with the hilarious, whipsmart faux-documentary series American Vandal, For Heaven’s Sake carries over that series self-aware tone, but necessarily filters out much of the sarcasm and commentary, as the subject, this time, is real: writers and narrators Mike Mildon and Jackson Rowe are investigating the disappearance of Howard Heaven, a great-great-grandpa to Mike, who’s no-trace-of-’em missingness is a tale discussed and debated amongst many members of Mike’s family. The duo – Jackson Mike’s friend – are armed with the abilities of modern investigation techniques, and some newly released police documents, and are pledging to solve the thing once and for all, going about it with their very amateur sleuthing bests.
Mike and Jackson are, thankfully, both very likeable dudes. They have pleasant chatter, and – whether as it’s presented or if it’s the reality – piece together feasible lines of inquiry intelligently enough, pursuing them in a bias but logical manner. The bias is the charming and frustrating nature of the series: so much of what they do is just based on assumption and not fact, and though they’re very open about this – knowingly going into it without any training or real know-how – there’s the sense that there might be a more procedurally compelling version of this if they’d cast aside the What If This?es and What If That?s and were a bit more rigorous about things; however, “procedurally compelling” could also be questionable with this particular mystery since it’s a very low key mystery. The light-hearted manner in which it’s approached is already suggestive of that – we’re not gonna do any true deep dives into human nature, or unearth some terrible Heaven family secret – and so I can understand that it was the righter choice to just sort of let the two follow their very loose threads in their bouncy, friendly manner.
To the writers’ / editors’ / producers’ credits – and to Mike’s and Jackson’s, who keep energy high despite there being not much to go on – the 8-episode count can be a stretch, revisiting a small pool of talking heads in the family who can truly only offer limited opinions on things, but it’s never a difficult thing to watch, and the ol’ cliffhanger game is done well, ending each episode on another clue or hint. But when we round the bend, and people start to question: What’s Next if this mystery is solved?, and our investigators don’t have the strongest answers, you get the sense that whether or not it is solved, the show’s not going to have much to say about it. Indeed, it’s reality this time, and not some high-profile Tiger King reality, but a fairly mundane whodunnit, that can only offer some pretty unsatisfying platitudes once it gets to its conclusion.
I think this was a cool idea, and I do applaud Mike and Jackson for putting in the sincere efforts on this, but I would rather opt for another season of American Vandal.