True crime is supposed to be unsettling: It’s Robert Stack in a suit talking about a missing person who was never found; a photo montage of Gypsy Rose in a wheelchair at Disney World; or eye-witness accounts of Ted Bundy approaching young women with his uninjured arm in a sling. In the new docuseries For Heaven’s Sake, however, it’s two best friends going door-to-door in the middle of Canadian winter, asking for help in solving an 85-year-old cold case. It’s anything but unsettling; it’s heartwarming.
In fact, warmth is a central theme. From the crackling fires in the opening credits and the big family bonfire in the show’s first episode to the fact that the subject of the series is a campfire story in and of itself, it’s hard not to sit down in front of the TV with a blanket and hot chocolate.
One cold night in 1934, 31-year-old Harold Heaven put on his best suit, picked up his rifle, left the oil lamp burning, and walked out the front door of his cabin in Minden, Ontario, never to be seen again. The local police ruled it a suicide, but this conclusion never satisfied the Heaven family. As the years went by, the theories grew, and Harold’s story was passed down from generation to generation. It’s these theories, along with some carefully preserved police reports tucked away in an old chest, that comedian-filmmakers Mike Mildon (Harold’s great-great nephew) and Jackson Rowe (Mike’s best bud) use to fuel their amateur investigation.
And make no mistake: It’s amateur. Mike and Jackson, who make up two-thirds of the Toronto-based sketch-comedy group Trophy Husbands, have about as much investigative experience as the viewers watching at home. Rather than cosplay as serious detectives, the two lean into their comedy background and let the audience know from the jump that they’re simply learning as they go. They don’t hide the fact that Mike’s own family members have zero faith in the pair’s detective skills, nor are they ashamed of making pee jokes for a living — Mike and Jackson show Grandma Ann a Trophy Husbands sketch that involves two urinals and around a gallon of water. The show is kind of like a dark buddy comedy à la Weekend at Bernie’s or Midnight Run: Our heroes are goofy, the straits are dire, we don’t know how they’re gonna pull it off, but damn do we want them to.
Even more unlike the typical true-crime doc, there’s no blood or guts, no gory crime-scene photos or artist renderings of severed torsos. Instead, theories are illustrated through well-directed reenactments, potential suspects are cleverly eliminated via an old-timey Guess Who? board game, and Mike and Jackson piece together clues on a chalkboard with red string. The shock factor comes from the storytelling, with each episode ending on its own mini-cliffhanger. This is where the show truly shines: Each episode features interviews with members of the Heaven family (many of whom still live in or spend their summers in Minden), during which everyone from Mike’s 82-year-old grandma to his 10-year-old cousin enthusiastically shares their own thoughts about Harold’s disappearance. Everyone has a theory, and everyone wants to see it solved.
Mike and Jackson are funny, charming, and easy to root for, but it’s the Heaven family that makes the show special. In 1934, Boyd Heaven conducted his own in-depth investigation into his brother’s disappearance. His sons, affectionately known to Mike as Poppa Ted and Uncle Dave, became amateur sleuths in their teen years and once dug up the basement of Harold’s cabin, hoping to find a body. Decade after decade passed, but they never gave up on Harold. They never stopped searching.
“It’s hard to grieve an incomplete event,” says Dr. Fay Martin, a Minden-based psychiatrist, in episode five. “Without closure, you don’t have anything.” Grandma Ann echoes this sentiment when she likens the loss of a child to a baby bird being shot out of the sky. True-crime documentaries tend to take the sensationalist route: We watch interviews with the killers, the killers’ families. We see how the killers’ actions have impacted their own families — the mother who never saw it coming, the brother who always thought they were a little “off.” It’s rare that the spotlight shines directly on the victim’s family members, the people who will never stop mourning this loss until the day they die. For Heaven’s Sake explores a side of true crime that is often overlooked, and it wants the viewer to know that these cases, the ones that aren’t bloody or shocking enough to make it into an episode of Forensic Files, matter just as much. Harold Heaven was more than just a victim of an unsolved crime; he was a son, a brother, an uncle, a great-great uncle, and he’s still alive in the hearts of his family, no matter how much time passes by.
For Heaven’s Sake is streaming on Paramount+.