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Archive for Monday, July 25, 2011

Documentary recalls mysteries of NY tragedy

July 25, 2011

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"There's Something Wrong With Aunt Diane" (8 p.m., HBO) recalls a local tragedy with universal implications and plumbs a mystery as deep and dark as the human heart.

On July 26, 2009, a minivan speeding the wrong way on New York's busy Taconic Parkway collided with another vehicle, leaving eight people dead — one of the worst accidents in New York state history. The accident killed the driver of the minivan, Diane Schuler, 36; Schuler's daughter and three nieces; and three men in the other car. Schuler's son, Bryan, miraculously survived.

The sensational coverage of the accident turned to vengeful hysteria when toxicology reports revealed high levels of alcohol and THC (marijuana) in Schuler's blood. One memorable tabloid headline screamed "Gin & Taconic." Schuler became a posthumous pariah.

Her husband, family members, friends and co-workers did not recognize the monster portrayed in the press or the substance abuser who emerged from the autopsy. "Something Wrong" exhaustively examines the evidence and interviews eyewitnesses and acquaintances of Schuler, focusing on the sad and protracted efforts of her widower and sister-in-law to clear her name.

We learn, slowly and painfully, that Diane Schuler was a woman who did not admit to physical or emotional pain, who was a perfectionist in the best and worst senses of the word and who was both the main provider and organizing force in her extended family. She was the kind of "superwoman" working mother who inspires envy in some and scorn in others. Just what made her drive off the highway, however, may never be known. The inner conflicts of a wife and mother have long been fodder for drama and melodrama, in works from "Madame Bovary" to "Desperate Housewives."

This documentary does a credible job of handling its combustible and easily exploitable material until the very end, when it careens into tabloid territory, stripping its subject of the most basic level of privacy and dignity. This strange lurch toward the lurid lasts only seconds, but it taints the entire film and left me wondering about the motivations of its makers.

Tonight’s other highlights

• The 2010 documentary "Broad Street Bullies" (6 p.m., HBO) recalls the Philadelphia Flyers' Stanley Cup championship squads of the 1970s.

• Fifteen chefs compete on "Hell's Kitchen" (7 p.m., Fox).

• Only three remain on "The Bachelorette" (7 p.m., ABC).

• The prospect of a space voyage brings out a competitive streak on "Eureka" (7 p.m., Syfy).

• Only nine remain on "MasterChef" (8 p.m., Fox).

• Victims turn to clay on "Warehouse 13" (8 p.m., Syfy).

• A process server delivers murder on "The Closer" (8 p.m., TNT).

• "Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations" (8 p.m., Travel) visits Naples, Italy.

• A tsunami expert vanishes on "Hawaii Five-O" (9 p.m., CBS).

• Wrongly incarcerated on "Harry's Law" (9 p.m., NBC).

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