Stream or skip?


Stream or skip? +2023

Don’t pick up the phoneis a three-part docuseries about the victims of a fake caller who spent a decade calling fast food restaurants across the country, posing as a police officer, and somehow convincing the manager who answered the phone to let one of the restaurant’s young female employees search.

opening shot: A man goes to a payphone and dials a number.

The essentials: We begin with a 2004 case that occurred at a McDonald’s in Mount Washington, KY. We hear mostly from Buddy Stump, the now-retired detective who was sent to this McDonald’s on one of his first big cases. There, a young woman named Louise Ogborn was summoned by assistant manager Donna Summers, received a call from a man who said he was a police officer, and gave a vague description of a young woman accused of stealing from a customer .

Ogborn was called, and at the caller’s direction, Summers had the young woman stripped naked. Eventually, she called her boyfriend to continue following the caller’s instructions, which included having the caller tell him that Ogborn should perform a sexual act.

Through interviews with victims, reporters and law enforcement, reenactments and CCTV footage, we see that Stump, horrified by the camera footage of what happened to Ogborn, was determined to find the sick person who made that call. That’s when he found out that these calls had been happening across the US for almost a decade

One of the cases happened in Blackfoot, Idaho, in 1999, and we hear from Elizabeth, the victim. Then, in 2004, four Wendy’s were hit in Massachusetts. Victor Flaherty, who investigated one of the Massachusetts cases, and Stump investigated each of these calls one by one and found that the calls were made using prepaid phone cards. Traces of the number that made the calls led them both to Panama City, Florida, where the police department connected the two detectives.

Don't pick up the phone
Photo: Netflix

What shows will it remind you of? Watch after Don’t pick up the phonewe kept thinking about another current docuseries, The Tetris Murders, because both docuseries talk about a case that doesn’t have a satisfying ending. It is also worth noting that the film is from 2012 attentiondirected by Craig Zobel (who later took the helm Mare by Easttown), is a slightly fictional film also based on the Mount Washington case.

Our opinion: Because of the size of the cases and the evidence that cops like Flaherty and Stump have to solve, we know there won’t be that much filler Don’t pick up the phone as it was in the above Tetris Murders. But we also know that the man accused of making the calls, David R. Stewart, was acquitted, likely due to a lack of direct evidence.

Both Ogborn and Summers won sizeable settlements after suing McDonald’s, accusing them of failing to alert management and employees to phone scams that had been going on for years. That’s where we think the filmmakers are going here. As admirable as it was that Stump and Flaherty’s investigations took innovative directions, in this case even finding someone to arrest, the effect on victims of the calls is probably the more interesting story.

Two of the questions we were left with by the end of the first episode were: 1) If this scam was well known and had gone on for so long, how could companies like McDonald’s not share information about it with their franchisees? It’s not that email didn’t exist at the time, and 2) How come some people who spoke to this caller knew immediately it was a scam but others stayed on the line, while he continued to escalate the matter Humiliation? We kept hearing him sound calm, reasonable, or logical, but at a certain point you’d think common sense would kick in.

We hope that some of these aspects of these cases will also be explored because yes people are trusting but how did this caller manage to keep people on the line for what seemed like hours telling them to commit acts that Does not make any sense?

gender and skin: We see the game actors playing the victims sitting naked in the re-enactments, perhaps covered with an apron or shot from behind.

farewell shot: When Flaherty sees the business card buyer’s pants drop down on Walmart’s security camera, he says, “It’s a cop.” We see the caller from behind in a reenactment.

sleeping star: We were intrigued by Buddy Stump’s reactions to what he saw on the McDonald’s CCTV footage, including how emotional he was 18 years after it happened.

Most pilot line: The re-enactments seem unnecessary given that there are CCTV footage, news reports and other ways to visually represent these calls.

Our appeal: Stream it. While we’re not sure viewers will come to a satisfying conclusion at the end Don’t pick up the phonewe believe they are invested in the story simply because this caller was able to trick people into committing heinous acts and how those calls affected the victims.

Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and technology, but he doesn’t fool himself: He’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Slate, Salon,, VanityFair.comFast Company and elsewhere.

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