The Lady and the Dale is a four part docu-series coming to HBO that follows one of the most interesting cons in United States history and the person who perpetrated it. The Dale was a three wheeled car that was supposed to save America during the gas crisis of the 1970s. Getting a whopping 70 miles per gallon, the vehicle was supposed to be the answer to a huge problem. Leading the way was Geraldine Elizabeth Carmichael, a trans woman who cut an imposing swath.
The first episode of the documentary can be seen as a prelude. It explores the life of Jerry Dean Michael up until the transition to Liz. The Lady and the Dale takes on an almost fun atmosphere. There are the expected interviews, but the show does not give the audience a series of talking heads. Instead, the series is filled with cut out animations (think early South Park) that give a unique vibe. It is a joy to watch Michael’s misadventures.
The second episode is where the story starts proper. Jerry has now come to a realization in her life and has transitioned to Geraldine. These are some of the most amazing moments of The Lady and the Dale. Jerry transitioned almost completely on her own. She would practice in her bedroom, go out in public in dressed like a female, and fully became a woman. This was not a man playing drag, but a person owning their gender.
It is also in this episode that a recurring problem first comes up. Liz’s family is very accepting, especially considering the time. Her brother in law states he was shocked when he first saw her after she changed. After talking to her, he realized it was the same person. Another person implies that Liz acted out due to society not allowing Jerry to accept who he was his entire life. In other words, they try to rationalize the crimes. These two statements are pretty much opposed to each other. The first is about acceptance, the second tries to find a link in different parts of Liz’s life.
The Lady and the Dale casts Dick Carlson (father of Fox commentator Tucker Carlson) as the main villain. This is exceedingly easy as Carlson does not just make statements that are based on the misunderstandings of the time. He was obsessed with Liz at the time and made it a point to use the wrong pronouns to antagonize her. He is still unapologetic now going so far as to compare her to serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.
Carlson is essentially a lost cause. He is a product of his time and his politics. The HBO series should know better, however. After a strong start, The Lady and the Dale also gets caught up in a similar narrative. Liz is a con artist. The documentary attempts to turn to focus more on her being a trans woman than a shyster.
What Liz did is nothing short of amazing – especially considering the era and the prejudices. Still, the evidence presented in The Lady and the Dale makes it clear she was a criminal. When the series tries to connect Liz’s illegal activities to her trans-ness, it comes off poorly.
(In all fairness, towards the end of the documentary there is a quick segment about how Liz should not be looked up to. This is sandwiched between inspiring clips and qualified with how brave she was.)
The Lady and the Dale is a fascinating docu-series. Liz Carmichael is a captivating character and the story of the Dale is gripping. The stories of her bravery will also entertain viewers. The show has an eye catching look that matches the subject. It gets a little off track in the third episode, but it’s an exciting watch.
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