If you drink in America, the chances are you’ve stumbled across that old dive bar guy with a story to tell. He’s always the same type: affable, persistent and honestly you never know how much of what he says you should believe.
Now, imagine a chatty and over-eager actor sits between you and the dive bar guy and, as the old fella spins his yarn, the actor chimes in to emphasize the point being made — or to explain it to you as though you were stupid.
If you can conjure that scenario then you’re at least halfway to understanding what it’s like to listen to the ten-part podcast series The Grand Scheme: Snatching Sinatra.
Now don’t get me wrong, the story here is a crazy, madcap window into the early years of Barry Keenan who was convicted of kidnapping Frank Sinatra Jr in the 1960s. Despite being an intentional criminal, Keenan comes off as a kind of lovable rogue whose misguided attempt to extort money from Sinatra Snr is really an admirable attempt restore his own family’s wealth. And his tale involves apparitions, mental health issues, drugs, unfathomable kidnap plots and an inevitable FBI chase. It has the makings of an excellent romp.
But there’s a problem.
The entirety of The Grand Scheme is Keenan’s narration “complemented” by John Stamos commentary — and that’s it. No other witnesses. No accomplices. No cops describing their side of things. No reporters from the time reliving the story. Just two guys in a backyard shooting the shit.
This may be by design, but it feels cheap somehow when directly compared with other true crime podcasts. It’s as though Stamos (assuming he’s the instigator) woke up and thought, “I’m rich and famous, and you have a great story. We really needn’t bother with thorough fact checking, investigation or journalism.”
Clearly this leads the listener to question how things really came off. I found myself wondering what had been forgotten or embellished? How would anyone get so lucky in so many parts of their life — including being prematurely released from prison so promptly? Keenan is at least honest about his privilege, but even then there is something implausible about his ability to go from flat broke to King Midas so often and with so little effort.
With some rigor, this story would make a really good podcast. But this isn’t it.