The Vow (2020– )

TVSeries


The Vow (TV Series 2020– )

A look at the experiences of the members of the NXIVM, an organization and sex cult who made headlines for being charged with sex trafficking and racketeering conspiracy.
USA
IMDb   7 /10
Metacritic   76 %
TheMovieDb    7.1 /10
RottenTomatoes  75 %
FilmAffinity   6.1 /10
Creators
Creator Karim Amer
Creator Jehane Noujaim
Creator Mona Eldaief
Creator Richard Hankin
Information
Release Date2020-08-23
Runtime
GenreDocumentary, Crime
Content RatingTV-MA (TV-MA)
Awards2 nominations
CompanyHBO Documentary Films, The Othrs
CountryUSA
LanguageEnglish
Selfas Self
Bonnie Piesse
Bonnie Piesse
Selfas Self
Mark Vicente
Mark Vicente
Selfas Self
Frank Parlato
Frank Parlato
Selfas Self
Barbara Bouchey
Barbara Bouchey
Selfas Self
Susan Dones
Susan Dones
Selfas Self
Kristin Keefe
Kristin Keefe
Selfas Self
Toni Natalie
Toni Natalie
Selfas Self
Barry Meier
Barry Meier
Selfas Self
India Oxenberg
India Oxenberg
Selfas Self
Rick Alan Ross
Rick Alan Ross
Selfas Self
Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia
Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia
Selfas Self
Toni Zarattini
Toni Zarattini
Selfas Self
Stanley Zareff
Stanley Zareff
Selfas Self

The Vow (TV series)

The Vow is an American true crime documentary series directed by Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer that revolves around the cult NXIVM and its leader Keith Raniere. The NXIVM documentary series premiered on August 23, 2020 on HBO.

In October 2020, the series was renewed for a second season.


Premise

The Vow follows members who joined the self-improvement group NXIVM – whose leader, Keith Raniere, was convicted of sex trafficking and racketeering conspiracy, among other crimes – and reveals the emotional toll of unfolding events, as well as the role Smallville actress Allison Mack played in recruiting new members. Former NXIVM members Sarah Edmondson, Mark Vicente, Bonnie Piesse, Anthony "Nippy" Ames, Barbara Bouchey, Susan Dones and Toni Natalie appear prominently in the series, alongside journalists Frank Parlato, who helped start initial reporting on the criminal activity of NXIVM, and New York Times reporter Barry Meier. Catherine Oxenberg appears in the series as she attempts to rescue her daughter India Oxenberg.

The second season of the series will focus on Raniere's trial and a continued look inside his inner circle and ongoing supporters, and stories of leadership in the United States and Mexico, as supporters and defectors face off with federal prosecutors and defense attorneys. Clare Bronfman's sentencing was taped for the second season. NXIVM co-founder Nancy Salzman, ongoing NXIVM supporter Nicki Clyne, and federal prosecutor Moira Kim Penza will appear in the season.


Episodes

No.Title Directed byOriginal air date U.S. viewers
(millions)
1"The Science of Joy"Jehane Noujaim
Karim Amer
August 23, 20200.342
2"Viscera"Jehane Noujaim
Karim Amer
August 30, 20200.338
3"At Cause"Jehane Noujaim
Karim Amer
September 6, 20200.341
4"Building Character"Omar MullickSeptember 13, 20200.304
5"Class 1 Data"Jehane Noujaim
Karim Amer
September 20, 20200.362
6"Honesty & Disclosure"Karim Amer
Jehane Noujaim
September 27, 20200.318
7"Blame & Responsibility"Jehane Noujaim
Karim Amer
October 4, 20200.257
8"The Wound"Jehane Noujaim
Karim Amer
October 11, 20200.266
9"The Fall"Jehane Noujaim
Karim Amer
October 18, 20200.360

Production

Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer initially did not set out to make a documentary series on the show, but after Noujaim took a NXIVM course after being recruited by Sara Bronfman, they had begun to hear about abuse within the organization and began documenting. Editors on the project suggested Noujaim participate as a subject in the series, however, since she only took two weeks of classes compared to other participants in the series, she felt it would not be right. Noujaim and Amer planned to split the story in two parts, with the first part focusing on those who left the cult, with the second focusing on the legal aspect.

Production on the series began in 2017, initially focusing on Sarah Edmondson, Mark Vicente, Bonnie Piesse, Anthony Ames, and Catherine Oxenberg as a way to document their escape from NXIVM as they were fearful of being sued by Clare Bronfman, and wanted to protect themselves by having it taped. Oxenberg filmed with Noujaim and Amer for a year-and-a-half before reuniting with her daughter, India Oxenberg, who throughout the first season, she attempts to rescue. Oxenberg decided to split from the production in fear her daughter would not reunite with her with cameras around. India Oxenberg decided not to participate in the series as she was not ready at the time of production to share her story to any outlet. Cult expert Janja Lalich served as a consultant on the series.

The series additionally features archive footage and recordings of Keith Raniere, Nancy Salzman, Lauren Salzman, Clare Bronfman, Sara Bronfman, Emiliano Salinas, Nicki Clyne, Marc Elliot, among others, which were shot by Vicente, as part of NXIVM's plan to document Raniere 24/7 for "future generations", and how "wise" he was.

In April 2019, it was announced the series had been greenlit by HBO, with HBO Documentary Films producing.

In September 2020, in an interview with Variety Noujaim stated "We reached out to everybody involved — many people, on all sides of the story — and we are continuing to film." On October 16, 2020, HBO renewed the series for a second season.


Reception

Critical response

On Rotten Tomatoes, the series holds an approval rating of 75% based on 28 reviews, with an average rating of 7.56/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Though The Vow's scope at times exceeds its reach, its empathetic approach to unpacking NXIVM's manipulations and the consequences therein make for necessary, difficult viewing." On Metacritic, the series has a weighted average score of 76 out of 100, based on 15 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".

In year-end best of 2020 television and documentary lists, The Vow found itself on the lists of The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Entertainment Weekly, Variety, Thrillist, Concrete Playground, and The Lineup. A number of reviews praised The Vow's intimate exploration, measured pace and extensive footage, but criticized its abstract storytelling and focus. In a positive review, Adrian Horton of The Guardian wrote that "as a portrait of manipulation and, in particular, the masking of female abuse through self-effacement, the series is darkly compelling, unnerving in a way that’s hard to shake," but conceded " deceptively muddies the timeline of the group’s development."Variety's Daniel D'Addario wrote that "The Vow pushes back against its slack pace to become television that compels — both for the access it has and for what it does with that access." Richard Lawson writing in Vanity Fair, was critical stating: "The Vow meanders through the downward arc of a cult’s fall, but gives us little sense of its history." The A.V. Club's Ashley Ray-Harris was less impressed and attributed the "wasted nine hours" and selective content to the (former NXIVM) filmmakers' desire to "get ahead of the curve with their own narrative." Maureen Ryan of the New York Times, in an otherwise positive review described the series as "only scratch the surface" and "padded... repetitive."

The Washington Post, Entertainment Weekly, and The Los Angeles Times listed the series as one of the best of 2020.

Accolades

YearAwardCategoryNomineesResultRef.
2021Cinema Eye HonorsOutstanding Cinematography in a Broadcast Film or SeriesIan Moubayed & Sam Price-WaldmanNominated
Critics' Choice Real TV AwardsBest Crime/Justice ShowThe VowNominated
Best Ongoing Documentary SeriesThe VowNominated
Hollywood Critics AssociationBest Broadcast Network or Cable Docuseries, Documentary Television Movie, or Non-Fiction SeriesThe VowPending

Ratings

Viewership and ratings per episode of The Vow
No.TitleAir dateRating
(18–49)
Viewers
(millions)
1"The Science of Joy"August 23, 20200.070.342
2"Viscera"August 30, 20200.090.338
3"At Cause"September 6, 20200.060.341
4"Building Character"September 13, 20200.050.304
5"Class 1 Data"September 20, 20200.080.362
6"Honesty & Disclosure"September 27, 20200.090.318
7"The Dossier"October 4, 20200.060.257
8"The Wound"October 11, 20200.050.266
9"The Fall"October 18, 20200.070.360