Evil Genius review: The insane story of the Pizza Bomber

Evil Genius: The True Story of America's Most Diabolical Bank Heist
Evil Genius: The True Story of America's Most Diabolical Bank Heist /

After the enormous success of the incredibly disturbing and intriguing political docuseries, Wild Wild Country, the Duplass brothers continue to move forward with true crime documentaries, this time investigating a bizarre bank robbery in the new series, Evil Genius.

If there’s one thing you can count on Netflix delivering in spades, it’s a string of intriguing and sometimes morally complex documentaries. From a study of the American justice system in Making a Murderer to a look at a nearly 50-year-old case of sexual abuse in last year’s The Keepers to even a comedic satire on this trend in American Vandal, Netflix has released an abundance of documentaries for viewers to sink their teeth into. It’s this market that Jay and Mark Duplass have tried to profit off, investing producer credits into two new docuseries shows, the newest being the strange and disturbing look at the Pizza Bomber case: Evil Genius.

The documentary mini-series covers what is undoubtedly one of the strangest, and ultimately tragic bank robbery cases in the United States. As is the trend with many of these recent documentaries, Evil Genius contains plot twists, surprises and interviews with some of the major names involved with the case. But how does it measure up against other documentaries and most importantly? Is there anything worthwhile to chew on and consume in this case?

A tragic heist

Evil Genius: The True Story of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist
Evil Genius: The True Story of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist /

The beginning of the documentary introduces the viewer to one Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong, with a voice-over provided by Trey Borzillieri, one of the directors of Evil Genius, alongside Barbara Schroeder. Borzillieri introduces Diehl-Armstrong as a woman that, from childhood, was shown to be an intelligent and confident person, with many issues brewing under the surface.

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We then transition to the case of Brian Wells, a mild-mannered pizza delivery man who walked into a bank in August of 2003 with a bomb wrapped around his neck. As the police confront him, the timer goes off and the bomb explodes, killing Wells in the process (shown in almost too much detail from the cameras recording at the time).

From there, Evil Genius begins to explore the many variables of the case, from potential conspirators to the true involvement of Diehl-Armstrong to whether or not Wells was a willing participant in the deeper nature of the bank robbery. Though the show is only four episodes long, each episode delves deeper into the case and cast of characters involved in the case, making for another satisfying story told through the art of the documentary.

Though the documentary never seems to straddle the middle line of biased storytelling, firmly painting Marjorie as a diabolical mastermind, Evil Genius is no less compelling for its willingness to explore the woman’s controversial public and private figure. It proves to be as much of a character study as it is a crime documentary.

Evil Genius: The True Story of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist
Evil Genius: The True Story of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist /

A disturbing correspondence

Arguably the most intriguing and, in some ways disturbing, aspect of the Netflix docuseries is the strange pen pal connection between director, Trey Borzillieri, and Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong. Borzillieri, becoming obsessed with the strange case, made the decision to contact Marjorie at the height of the case’s popularity, creating an interesting relationship with a controversial figure in order to receive more information on the case. But as the case goes on, the two continue to chat, regularly making calls to each other, even with her in prison.

Evil Genius is at its most perplexing when delving into the odd dynamic between the two characters. It’s clear that Trey finds something inherently fascinating about Marjorie and it’s hard to blame him, given her outspoken nature and general quirkiness. In fact, at points it risks overshadowing the actual case of Brian Wells itself. It never quite takes center stage, but Trey’s involvement in the project is immensely personal, possibly painting Trey as a weird case of the unreliable narrator. He ultimately views Marjorie as a negative figure, yet he shares a correspondence with her, calling into question the very nature of the documentary. It still stays focused, but the strange relationship between the two tedious pen pals makes for some engaging (and disturbing) streaming.

Details of the case

Evil Genius: The True Story of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist
Evil Genius: The True Story of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist /

Unlike Wild Wild Country or Making a MurdererEvil Genius does not attempt to dig deeper into the case by questioning the very foundation that it stands on. Instead, despite the previously mentioned journey into Trey’s connection to Marjorie, the documentary opts to focus on the details of the case, for the most part. The episodes in the middle delve into the characters of Marjorie and her alleged co-conspirators, but it is not done with the level of creativity, grace and interest that the other two stories do.

Evil Genius is ultimately held back in that regard, doing less to prompt immediate discussion about what transpired. When Wild Wild Country ended, the impact of what the story contributed to the discussion of racism and morality in the rural United States kept, and still keeps my mind going crazy over what transpired in the story. Here, the case, despite introducing some complex people to the general public, is a little too cut-and-dry to properly make a case for its shelf life as a work of art. Everything is engaging, yet incredibly surface level, which makes finalizing my thoughts on the docuseries a little difficult.

Next: Wild Wild Country review: A cult or a peaceful society?

Having watched this with my family, I vividly remember briefly talking about it with my mom and sister after it ended. The discussion lasted less than two minutes before we changed the subject. It isn’t to say the story of Brian Wells and Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong isn’t compelling and worth a watch, because it absolutely is. It’s disturbing, raw and packs an emotional gut punch. However, in the long run, Evil Genius will stand as a show that boasted quality filmmaking and presentation, but nothing spectacular in scope.

The story is four episodes long, so it’s an ideal weekend Netflix binge marathon, but the story, despite its unexpected twists, will stay in the realm of good, but could’ve been amazing.

Final Verdict: 7/10

Evil Genius is available to stream on Netflix now.