Few names conjure such pleasant images as Bob Ross. With his clouds fluffy and free and his trees happy and green, Ross smacked his brush on his easel and taught the world to paint on the public TV classic The Joy Of Painting. But if we’re to believe the trailer for Netflix’s upcoming documentary Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed, something sinister lurks in that bountiful perm of his. Not that we know what betrayals and greed stalk the crevices of his private life because Netflix isn’t telling us.
Taking on some of the aesthetics of their popular true crime documentaries, Netflix’s trailer for Happy Accidents refuses to tell us anything about the mysterious goings-on of Mr. Ross, who died in 1995. But it does have the vibe of one of those “All the trees were happy…until they weren’t” memes. Directed by Joshua Rofé (Lorena, True Life: I’m An Adult Baby) and produced by Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falc0ne, the doc doesn’t sound like the tranquil artist we’ve come to know. Here’s how Netflix vaguely describes it:
Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed brings us the shockingly untold story of the prolific landscape artist and host of The Joy of Painting. With a keen appreciation for nature, and a kind and gentle demeanor, Bob Ross encouraged everyone he met to embrace their creativity and believe in themselves, becoming a cultural phenomenon along the way. The man who famously said that there were no mistakes - just happy accidents - has brought sheer delight to the world for decades. Beyond the iconic hair, soothing voice and nostalgic paintings lies a mystery that many have yet to discover.
Netflix’s page for the documentary gives us a better idea of what’s going on here, stating, “A battle for his business empire cast a shadow over his happy trees.”
We can only assume that this refers to the 25-year-long plot to usurp control of the Bob Ross fortune after his death, which some of Ross’ friends refer to as “Grand Theft Bob.” Per The Daily Beast, in 2018, Ross’ son, Steve Ross, who appeared on several episodes of The Joy Of Painting, sued Bob Ross, Inc., which is run by his sister and Ross’ original business partners, in federal court for making “millions of dollars by illegally licensing Bob’s image over the last decade.” Steve Ross claimed to own 100% of the rights to his father’s name and likeness. A federal judge disagreed and threw the case out. But as Daily Beast writer Alston Ramsay reports, the battle was no happy accident:
The broad contours of the case revolved around the nuances of intellectual property law and were nothing new in the world of legal bickering over celebrity estates. The details, on the other hand, resided in the land of the unbelievable—incorporating deathbed marriages, last-minute estate changes, CIA-style tape recordings, and even a real-life former CIA agent.
It’s unclear whether the Daily Beast and Netflix’s doc are following the same story or whether there are two documentary-worthy true-crime tales in Ross’ palette. However, judging by stills released by Netflix, like the one below, it does feel like we’re the streamer is priming us for a documentary about what a villain Steve Ross is—though, that’s pure speculation based on what little knowledge we have about the doc.
You won’t get answers in the trailer, which is cruelly withholding on the details. Unless, of course, the only question you have is: “When is this movie on?” The answer to that is quite simple.
Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed premieres on Netflix on August 25.