Thursday, March 03, 2022

Bug Out, on IMDb

It is something A.J. Raffles and John Robie (“The Cat” from To Catch a Thief) never stole, presumably because the collectors’ market wasn’t established yet. It is now, with rare insects commanding steep prices, even with dubious provenances. When the Philadelphia Insectarium and Butterfly Pavilion was cleaned out of their collection, it was fodder for the late-night talk show hosts, but it involved serious money. Long after the drive-by snark passed, investigators continued uncovering a bizarre scandal that director Ben Feldman reveals in the four-part Bug Out, which premieres tomorrow on IMDb.

The Insectarium is sort of a combination zoo for live insects and museum for dead ones, because collectors collect them both ways. However, you really cannot have an Insectarium with empty cases, so it was quite distressing when CEO arrived to find the Insectarium’s holdings were completely cleared out. The Philly cops took it seriously, but it was a bit outside their area of expertise. Fortunately, U.S. Fish and Wildlife started collaborating on the investigation.

There were no shortages of suspects, including the former owner (who parted company with the Insectarium on bad terms) and several handlers, who turned out to have either criminal records or highly suspicious connections to the insectoid-black market. There are also reports of conveniently vanished Federal evidence being held for analysis and a potentially missing species of insect that is very large, very toxic, and very illegal for the Insectarium to import.

Bug Out
is pretty intriguing, as the dark, criminal flipside to Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo, a rather charming look bug enthusiasm. There are a number too-crazy-for-fiction wrinkles to this tale, but Feldman tries too hard to deliver jaw-dropping surprises, structuring the series around total reversal in the concluding episode. It is supposed to be a shocker, but everyone should be guessing it anyway, because we can recognize a dodgy witness when we see one.

Still, this is an entertainingly unlikely foray into true crime. (Frankly, just the idea that contraband potentially poisonous insects are regularly shipped through U.S. Mail in unmarked boxes is a bit mind-blowing, in a bad way.) The comparatively briefer thirty-five-minute-or-so running time for each episode also makes the installments easy to dip into and digest. Some of the insect educators have brief opportunities to explain their passion for bugs, which is cool, but the focus clearly falls on the various crimes and deceptions. Recommended for those who dig bugs and slightly off-kilter real-life crime documentaries,
Bug Out starts streaming tomorrow (3/4) on the IMDb app.