Ashley Spurgeon is a lifelong TV fan — nay, expert — and with her recurring television and pop-culture column "And Another Thing," she'll tell you what to watch, what to skip, and what's worth thinking more about.
Based on what I’ve been watching lately, it’s clear I don’t mind a few dozen killings in my entertainment. But when it comes to “devious criminality as leisure viewing,” my loved one is firmly in the camp of con artistry. He’s been keeping up with the trial of blood scammer Elizabeth Holmes, for one thing, and was even the first person to inform me of the untimely death of Middle Tennessee’s Gwen Shamblin, notable cult leader and God’s own #girlboss. (My significant other is from New England, where money lives, whereas I’m used to Southern Gothic-style “After she drowned her babies, she went to the church with a shotgun” shenanigans. Opposites attract!) I just never had too much interest in straight-up money crimes; I thought it was as dull as watching Wild West outlaws rob the same bank a hundred times in a row.
But that was before he introduced me to American Greed. Several seasons are currently streaming on the Peacock app, but I was informed this program used to be premium viewing on CNBC marathon weekends — I was more of an MSNBC Lockup kind of gal myself (so many murderers!), so sadly I missed dozens of stories about of some of the best, most hilarious and most ridiculous avaricious buffoons to ever traipse upon our majestic purple mountains and fruited plains. Greed is often a motive for my murders, but so is love, or revenge. Also, my murder viewing is largely fictional and written by clever people, and clever people are real bitches about writing stupid people accurately — even the dumbest crimes perpetrated by make-believe goons have a sense of workmanship about them. Not so for real life! Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes a dumbass who wants to murder her husband for money is really just a dumbass who wants to murder her husband for money.
Maybe that’s the thing about con artistry that hurts my sensitive soul. It’s not that there are a few genius criminal masterminds pulling the strings, it’s that there are millions of half-wit scammers who are happy to take advantage of people they consider quarter-wits. The wife who wanted her husband killed? Why, he was a con artist too, none too bright himself (would you believe it if I told you she was a sex worker he fell madly in love with?) and therefore — easy pickings. Just sharks nabbing fish straying too far from the school. Murder is often called “cold-blooded,” but we all know about crimes of passion, accidental killings in fits of rage or under the influence. Murder can be a very hot-blooded crime, and on some level society finds it occasionally understandable. That’s why we have varying legal degrees of culpability, a difference between capital murder and manslaughter. You — yes, you — could kill a person in self-defense, or in a tragic accident.
But crimes of greed are cold-blooded, and can easily victimize thousands of people. We’re not talking about edgy shoplifting teens or someone with a drug addiction stealing to feed a habit. The criminals profiled on this show are genuinely atrocious people, just absolute cocksuckers who deserve everything they have coming to them. Meet “The Playboy of Indiana,” some whey-faced fart-sniffer whose name I’m not actually going to look up. Mr. Potato Head here ran a Ponzi scheme that targeted the likes of farmers, retirees, an elderly former nun who left the fold to care for her dying father and now runs a day care ... you know, the usual bunch of suckers.
That particular episode opens with Megan Hauserman, who true Celebreality heads will recognize from her days on VH1. The Playboy of Indiana hired Hauserman and other ladies to play the role of big-tittied accessories in his Indianapolis (lol) bachelor fuck pad, and she’s happy to discuss how gauche and lame it all was, and how she and her co-workers valiantly shimmied their way through a cringe evening. Bad acting is a through line in American Greed, whether it’s the cops setting up a fake hit to get Little Miss Black Widow up there on camera, or a tag-team con duo emphatically explaining prosperity-gospel investment scams to Christians willing to spend an afternoon in a hotel conference room with two books they should have absolutely judged by their covers.
There’s very good acting on this show where it counts, though, and that’s in the voiceover. American Greed is narrated by one Mr. Stacy Keach, and believe you me, that man shows up for work. He gives every sordid story 110 percent, growling out disbelief and disgust with big believable energy — remember the fake sofa ads he did on 30 Rock?
Now imagine that angry, righteous passion when describing someone who steals a farmer’s life savings. Kudos as well to the show’s edit team — editors are the real stars of reality programming, and they know how to end on notes that punctuate the pathetic absurdity of their stars. These are sad, messed-up stories. But they really do make great dinnertime viewing.