Bug Out review: $50,000 bug heist gets the Tiger King treatment

A true crime series on IMDb TV takes a slightly too harrowing look at an invertebrate zoo robbery where things weren’t quite as they seemed


March 23, 2022

Bug Out reveals the world of insect collectors like Steve Lamond

Courtesy of IMDb TV


Ben Feldman

IMDb Television

ONE morning in August 2018, the general manager of an insectary and butterfly house in Pennsylvania arrived at work to find that all of his live exhibits were gone. “Shelves and shelves and shelves that should have been filled with creatures in abundance were empty,” says John Cambridge.

As true-crime tales spread, the “Philadelphia bug heist” immediately intrigued, not least because of the obvious question: what could anyone want with thousands of bugs?

Now the author hunt has been given on tiger king treatment in a four-part documentary series for IMDb TV. As with 2020’s sensation starring Joe Exotic, the edgier moments of bug-out come and take care of his subjects who walk on two legs.

The Philadelphia Insectarium and Butterfly Pavilion grew out of a 1970s pest control business called Bug Out, run by a former cop who displayed his “catch of the day.” Over the years, the displays have become more elaborate and quirky, and insect lovers have been drawn to them like moths to a porch light. It became the first invertebrate zoo in the United States and, until the robbery, was a seemingly uneventful family attraction.

The series follows a broadly chronological structure, beginning with flight before soaring into the strange (and surprisingly endearing) world of frightening critters enthusiasts, collectors, and dealers. On one level, it’s a telling glimpse into an unfamiliar – and, to many, unappealing – hobby where people are eager to share their enthusiasm for rare cockroaches ($500 per breeding pair) and African land snails the size of small dogs. .

A diversion into the burgeoning illegal international trade in rare insects and other wildlife shows the dark side of human nature and our obsession with collecting and commodifying all aspects of the natural world.

But just like you didn’t look tiger king to learn more about the conservation of big cats, bug-outThe real intrigue comes from the people behind the insectarium. In many ways, it’s a study of what was a dysfunctional workplace that put human nature, not insects, under the microscope. The most emotional moments come from employees who desperately wanted to pursue their passion through their work, only to have their dreams shattered by a toxic work environment.

“Just like you didn’t look tiger king to learn more about big cats, the real intrigue comes from the people »

Until the robbery, these dramas were played out on a small stage. The robbery was then picked up by local and then national media. Before long, it was discussed by late night chat show host Jimmy Kimmel. As a result, Cambridge became a mini-celebrity and the police operation escalated, with an additional FBI investigation looking into some of the surprisingly sleazy backgrounds of employees at the time.

The crime was more serious than it appears: Cambridge estimated the value of the approximately 7,000 insects captured at $50,000. But the loss of his exhibits was just the tip of the iceberg, as the seemingly healthy family attraction turned out to be plagued by power struggles and financial mismanagement.

Documentary makers’ efforts to nurture drama to true-crime levels are sometimes heavy-handed, suggesting an anxiety about letting the story speak for itself. A dramatically lit corkboard linking suspicious mugshots to sticky notes labeled with things like “pattern=bugs” is presumably meant to add drama to the police investigation. The dry humor of the investigators, meanwhile, is marred by the general tone of the show.

When the big reveal arrives, in the fourth and final episode, it doesn’t quite deliver on the thriller promised in the first – in fact, it reveals that the narrative has been contrived somewhat. It feels like the filmmakers, having set out to tell the real story behind the Philadelphia bug theft, discovered a very different story than they had anticipated and were forced to make the most of it.

The result is a very confusing if somewhat unsatisfying series: a Pandora’s box which, despite bug-out‘s best efforts, cannot be properly contained.

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