'Leaving Neverland' Paints a Darker, Disturbing Portrait of Michael Jackson

Matt Roush
Preview HBO

To his adoring public, and for a time to the children he famously befriended, Michael Jackson was an eternally childlike Peter Pan. But the shattering and graphically detailed confessionals in the riveting four-hour documentary Leaving Neverland (which premiered Sunday, March 3 and concludes Monday, March 4) paint a darker, disturbing portrait of the superstar.

It took fatherhood and awareness of their own depression for James Safechuck, now 37, and famed choreographer Wade Robson, 41, to be able to reflect openly (and finally tell their shocked families) about the sexual abuse they allegedly experienced as preteens during sleepovers with Jackson.

Complicating their narrative is the fact that both testified on Jackson’s behalf in child-molestation trials — and, after his death, unsuccessfully sued his estate.

Jackson's defenders see them as opportunists, but it's impossible not to feel the pain of these men as they describe being dazzled by proximity to fame and disarmed by Jackson's angelic demeanor. He made these boys feel special while warning them of dire consequences should their secret ever be exposed.

Their moms (who come off especially clueless) were perhaps even more willingly seduced. Whether or not you believe this account, it's an unhappily ever after for all concerned.

Leaving Neverland, Monday, March 4, 8/7c, HBO