Max Allan Ruins Everything

January 1st, 2019 by Max Allan Collins

I am about to recommend something you are probably already familiar with; but here goes….

Netflix recently added a sampling of the truTV series Adam Ruins Everything to its roster, and it looked interesting enough for me to try it…and now I am hooked. When I ran through the Netflix batch, I immediately bought the various seasons of the show on Amazon Prime and have watched all but a few episodes.

Adam Ruins Everything is the brainchild of stand-up comic Adam Conover, and (in the words of Wikipedia), “The series aims to debunk misconceptions that pervade U.S. society.” It spins off from Conover’s CollegeHumor web series, which I haven’t seen (yet). But it’s a lot more, being as much a comedy show as an educational one.

Adam Conover portrays himself as an overly helpful nerd, a smarty-pants who doesn’t understand why people don’t love him for correcting them. It’s a funny concept which Conover pulls off fearlessly, surrounding himself with some of the best comedic talent around, including veterans of Mr. Show and Reno 911. Recurring characters and story arcs are threaded through, as well.

Conover and his series skewer historical misconceptions, false beliefs fueled by corporate misinformation, urban legends and just plain stupidity. And, uniquely, sources are posted on-screen, and experts on the various subjects often appear in the context of the imaginative episodes. Though I discovered the well-made, entertaining show just a week ago, Conover and his research staff have already changed my behavior. I have sworn off vitamin supplements and Tylenol PM, for example.

He isn’t always right, and to his credit a later episode focuses on some of his mistakes. (When I say “he,” I refer not to the actual Conover but his television character.) For example, the episode about the real Wild West dismisses Wyatt Earp as a nobody con man who tried to peddle the untrue story of his life to Hollywood, implying he wasn’t a gunfighting heroic lawman at all.

Earp, of course, was a controversial figure, but he was famous during his day and well after, surviving several harrowing gunfights, including the O.K. Corral one (which happened in a vacant lot near the corral), which was even covered as news in the New York Times. The show is at its weakest when it accepts its experts at face value.

The Collins/Schwartz Scarface and the Untouchable, for example, debunks the debunkers who falsely represented Eliot Ness and his career. But I fear if Ness came up in a future episode, the research staff would accept the conventional (and wrong) wisdom about the Untouchables and the IRS investigators. Like the anti-Ness writers, many of the anti-Earp writers posthumously attacked the lawman-gambler-prospector because of the exaggerations of a book published after his death, leading to inflated TV fame.

For me, the the anti-conspiracy theory episode is unfortunate on a show that routinely exposes government and/or corporate conspiracies. It conflates the risible “moon landing was fake” theory with the Kennedy assassination. While my Nathan Heller novels have their fanciful aspects, the extensive research I’ve done (often with the help of George Hagenauer) has often shown the official versions of things are false…something Adam Ruins Everything often does.

Let’s not give conspiracy a bad name. Watergate and its cover-up was a conspiracy. The JFK assassination was almost certainly a conspiracy. Robert Mueller is not a guy in a tin-foil hat.

Also, sometimes conspiracies are not really conspiracies at all. Let me tell you about it! The railroading of Bruno Hauptmann for the Lindbergh baby kidnapping was nothing engineered, rather a bunch of cops backing each other up, plus some reporters manufacturing evidence, all filtered through a general hatred of Germans post-World War One. These folks didn’t get together in a room and conspire. They just had mutual views/assumptions of who did the crime.

For the record, when I write a Nathan Heller novel, I go in with an open mind. For JFK, the most outrageous thing I could have done was come to the conclusion that Oswald was the Lone Gunman. For Lindbergh, I’d have been swimming against the tide if I said Hauptmann was guilty; but if that’s where my research led, so be it. When I wrote the Roswell novel, Majic Man, I went in ready to report whatever I came away believing – including the existence of aliens. But my research indicated something else was going on.

With Do No Harm, the Sam Sheppard murder case novel that will be out in a year or so, I had no opinion about who did it…and did not decide till well into the work – not only the research period but the writing one.

So Adam Ruins Everything isn’t perfect. But it’s funny and informative, and – most important – it gets you thinking. It even got me thinking! Also, you need to stop using sleep aids and vitamin supplements.

* * *

I will admit to being disappointed on two fronts by various end-of-the-year “best of” lists.

Both The Last Stand and Killing Town, the final Spillane solo novel and the collaborative first Mike Hammer novel (begun in 1945 by Mickey and completed by me last year), have been pretty much roundly ignored…despite fairly stellar reviews.

One nice exception is this selection of Killing Town as the Best Retro Read of the Year, here.

More disappointing is how Scarface and the Untouchable by A. Brad Schwartz and myself has been overlooked, again despite stellar reviews. The book is a completely new approach to Eliot Ness and his contribution to the downfall of Capone, and the previously unnoticed collaboration between the government and Capone’s fellow mobsters to put the Big Fellow away. I fear the length of the book has scared away reviewers. And I am now officially nervous that we’ll be overlooked by the Edgars.

(But a nice exception is this gift guide from the Entertainment Report.)

If you haven’t tracked down the Titan graphic novel edition of Mike Hammer in The Night I Died, this good review might convince you.

By the way, I signed ten copies of The Night I Died for vj books, available here.

Here’s a nice advance look at Girl Most Likely from Col’s Criminal Library.

This is a mediocre review, but at least it’s a review, of the Quarry graphic novel, Quarry’s War. The reviewer complains about the alternating pages that intersperse the Vietnam war sequence with Quarry during his hitman years, considering what I’m proudest of about the work “annoying.” He complains that Quarry doesn’t open up enough about himself. Sigh.

On the other hand, both Quarry’s War and The Night I Died get nice mentions in this wrap-up of comics in 2018.

This is my first post of 2019, by the way, written in 2018. Happy New Year to all of you.


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5 Responses to “Max Allan Ruins Everything”

  1. Fred Blosser says:

    Al, a helluva list of accomplishments for 2018. I’d also add “The Mike Hammer Collection, Vol. IV” to the checklist, a fitting treasury of the final four novels for the 2018 Centennial. Any chance that a “Tiger Mann Collection” will ever be in the cards? Back in the day, I liked Tiger better than Hammer — a strange perspective for any number of reasons, I know.

  2. Thanks, Fred! Collection #4 was a disappointment only in that I couldn’t convince NAL to offer a POD version. Most people above forty (and some under) want a real book to put on their shelves. We’ve discussed Tiger Mann (which could take up a single volume), but it never gets beyond the talking stages. I have several non-Hammer starts by Spillane on novels that could be converted to Tiger Mann, which I would love to do, and could — maybe — happen. I think Mickey was more excited, initially, about Tiger Mann because it was (sort of) different from Mike Hammer. Also, he had been disappointed in his effort to get a whole Hammer movie series started via THE GIRL HUNTERS. And I’m sure Tiger Mann initially looked like it would spark a movie series. To me, the books start strong (the first two), then get progressively weaker as the prospects for a film series never came together. Little known fact: Tiger Mann was the second bestselling spy series (let’s put it this way — imitation Bond/Fleming spy series) of the day…yet never became films, and is little discussed today.

  3. Peter says:

    I very much want to read “Scarface/Ness” as I became fascinated with the subjects when I watch Untouchables re-runs as a kid and later the Costner film. Your Ness books are wonderful reads. I await this one because a) it is one that I will keep (hence no library version) and b) hardcover is a bit too hefty in mass, and the ebook too hefty in price for my tastes. So, for me, it is a waiting game!

  4. Sean Kelly says:

    My daughter’s letter to Santa asked him to bring me a copy of Scarface and the Untouchable for Christmas (along with Tony Isabella’s Black Lightning compilations) and I am happy to say he came through with the goods.

    I will second a reprint of the Tiger Mann books. I read these long before I ever got into Mike Hammer. I believe it was the two-page spread in Ms. Tree that made me search them out.

  5. Mike Doran says:

    Merry Two-and-a-half weeks delayed Xmas!
    Since the weekend before (12/20/18), when my computer’s framistan popped loosed from its farfalonus, I’ve been very frustratingly offline.
    I just got it back from the Geek Squad today, and getting it going again from Square I is proving to be quite the effort.
    I won’t bore you with my cyberwoes (as if I haven’t already) – so here’s to 2019 and all its as-yet unrevealed horrors.

    As that old Tribune column used to say:
    Maybe The Year Will Get BETTER …