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Recommended: Children of the Underground on FX

TV's latest twisty docuseries will leave you infuriated in all the right ways.
  • Faye Yager in an archival photo from Children of the Underground (Photo: Taro Yamasako/FX)
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    Children of the Underground | FX
    Five-Episode Documentary Series | TV-MA

    What's Children of the Underground About?

    After the courts send her own daughter back to her abusive father, Faye Yager begins an underground railroad to help mothers and their kids get away from the men who harm them.

    Who's involved?

    • The series is produced by Story Syndicate, a company created by veteran documentary producers Dan Cogan (Icarus; Allen vs. Farrow) and Liz Garbus (I'll Be Gone in the Dark)
    • It's co-directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite (Blackfish) and Ted Gesing (Frontline)
    • Faye Yager herself appears in loads of archival footage and in new audio-only interview excerpts.
    • Other interviewees include Yager's daughter, many of her former colleagues in the underground, several of the mothers and children she helped, and quite a few people who challenge her methods.

    Why (and to whom) do we recommend it?

    Children of the Underground is infuriating in all the best ways. At first it stokes outrage by persuasively demonstrating that because of America's family court system, abused children often need a network like Yager's to protect them from their predatory relatives. The interviews with the women and children who used her underground railroad only soildify this argument, alongside court documents that show how judges and attorneys overlook or mishandl evidence of mistreatment.

    But by episode three, the show scrambles our notion of heroes and villians. We're reminded that while she was helping kids, Yager was also fueling the flames of the "Satanic panic" of the 80s and early 90s, talking to anyone who would listen about ritualized, devil-worshiping abuse that almost certainly didn't happen. It's maddening that someone who did so much good could spout this claptrap.

    From there, directors Cowperthwaite and Gesen expertly vacillate between the idea that Yager is a good guy, a bad guy, or some combination of the two. In one moment, she seems to be causing an uproar just to satisfy her own ego, while in others she seems to be a fearless crusader. The last episode, when Yager herself is finally interviewed, only intensifies that ambiguity. In the end, it may be the show's determination to defy our desire for tidy resolutions that makes it so hard to shake.

    Pairs well with

    • Indictment: The McMartin Trial, HBO's Emmy-winning film about the hysteria surrounding supposed child abuse at a preschool. (The real-life case is referenced in Children of the Underground.)
    • The Janes, HBO's recent documentary about the underground network of abortion providers who helped Chicago women in the 1960s. (Read our review.)
    • Spotlight, the classy thriller (and Oscar winner for Best Picture) about journalists uncovering child abuse in the Catholic Church. (Stream on Showtime.)

  • Children of the Underground
    All five episodes premiere on FX August 12, and stream the next day on Hulu.
    Produced by Liz Garbus and Dan Cogan.
    Starring: Faye Yager.
    Directed by: Gabriela Cowperthwaite and Ted Gesing.

    TOPICS: Children of the Underground, FX, Dan Cogan, Faye Yager, Gabriela Cowperthwaite, Liz Garbus, Ted Gesing