‘Wild, Wild Country’: The ultimate Netflix documentary guide
Searching for the perfect documentary or docuseries on Netflix can be a little overwhelming in 2019 – with such a wealth of choice and dozens of non-fictional Netflix Originals on offer, where does one even begin?
That’s where Film Daily comes in. We’ve put together a comprehensive guide to all the best content to stream on the SVOD service right now so you no longer have to spend hours traipsing through the internet in search of your next bingewatching fix. Here’s our ultimate guide to the Netflix Originals documentaries and docuseries you should either watch or avoid.
Ava DuVernay’s (A Wrinkle in Time) in-depth documentary looks at the prison system in the United States and how it reveals the nation’s history of racial inequality on a maddening scale. A compelling watch that deserves all the praise it gets, the film shows how the prison system has developed into a modern day slave trade, making 13th powerful, overwhelming, and infuriating all at once.
The title is taken from the 13th amendment, which outlawed slavery but left a significant loophole in that it allowed involuntary servitude to be used as a punishment for crime. As the rich and complex information presented in the film shows, this was exploited in the aftermath of the civil war and continues to be abused to this day.
This hard-hitting crime-drama doc will make you cry out of frustration if nothing else, but is essential viewing nonetheless.
Amanda Knox (2016)
Foxy Knoxy gets the spotlight in this tell-all documentary showing just how powerful the influence of the media can be on a crime case.
Although the story of the American student Amanda Knox, the murder of her housemate Meredith Kercher, and the Italian trial that shook the world has been reported on a million times over since the incident unfolded back in 2007, Netflix’s documentary is separate to the sensationalist media storm that engulfed the story as it attempts to dig deep and try to understand everyone involved in the case.
And as the film progresses, the Daily Fail (typo intended) reporter who shaped the story of Meredith Kercher’s death, Nick Pisa, proved himself to be the “new villain” of the story.
Audrie & Daisy (2016)
A harrowing doc but one that is definitely worth your time, Audrie & Daisy tells the true story of two teenage girls from different parts of the US who were both sexually assaulted by male friends. The film offers an unflinching look at the damage caused by sexual assault, but also the dangers of social media and the influence it can have in the aftermath.
These heavy themes are explored via the stories of the two high school students who, following their sexual assault, were humiliated online and harassed by their communities, fuelling the frustration you’ll most definitely feel as you see a culture in which abuse is rife and perpetrators aren’t punished for their crimes is exposed.
Casting JonBenet (2017)
Offering a fresh, new spin on the narrative structure of a documentary feature, Kitty Green’s avant garde Casting JonBenet is a stunning original with many layers for its viewers to peel back.
A crime documentary, a satirical take on the genre, and a slice of experimental theater all rolled into one feature-length work, this “Jackass of reflexive documentaries” portrays the casting process for a fictional film in which various Colorado-area actors are interviewed and tested for the roles of real people involved in the world’s most sensational child murder case – the unsolved death of six-year-old American beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey.
Chasing Coral (2017)
We’re sure y’all are well aware our planet is headed towards catastrophe (why else does Elon Musk keep badgering on about shipping our mess of a population over to Mars?), but perhaps no documentaries highlight quite how screwed we really are than Jeff Orlowski’s Chasing Coral.
At once a stunning tribute to the beauty of our planet’s oceans and a stark warning to their uncertain future, this Netflix Originals documentary sees a team of divers, photographers, and scientists set out on a thrilling adventure to document the disappearance of the world’s coral reefs. It’s like Finding Nemo IRL . . . if Finding Nemo and his family and friends were all dying because humans used their home as a giant trash can.
Cuba and the Cameraman (2017)
In the early 70s, there was a revolution going down in Cuba, so filmmaker Jon Alpert took his camera to the country to document the cautious optimism of the time.
While this would’ve made some powerful archival footage in itself, Alpert and his crew continued to capture footage in the Pearl of the Antilles over the course of 45 years, culminating in this feature-length film which takes viewers from the revolutionary 70s, to the harrowing 90s after the fall of the Soviet Union, right up to the 2016 death of Fidel Castro.
Focusing on three families and their growth & struggle throughout the country’s turbulent few decades, Cuba and the Cameraman is an enthralling look at life in Cuba, breaking down those political barriers to look fondly at the people who populate it.
Gripping, absorbing, and defiantly hopeful in the face of atrocity, E-Team is a vital look into the work of human rights activists aptly titled the E-Team (Emergency Team) who travel to the front lines of Syria and Libya to document the devastation and war crimes conducted by Bashar al-Assad and the now-deceased Muammar Gaddafi.
Filmmakers Ross Kauffman and Katy Chevigny take us to the front line to document the valiant and vital work and the daily sacrifices these activists take to get information out of the country and into the hands of media outlets and criminal courts. Forget Marvel and DC – the E-team are this planet’s true superheroes.
End Game (2018)
End Game is the latest addition to Netflix’s short documentary offerings, covering the taboo topic of death in a frank and honest way that is not often seen in Western culture. Academy Award-winning filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman follow several terminally ill individuals at two San Francisco Bay Area medical facilities on the forefront of creating new paradigms for end-of-life decisions with grace.
While this might sound decidedly morbid, the film offers hope and is largely about acceptance – acceptance from the individuals themselves and from their loved ones. So although there are moments of pain and suffering, there are also flickerings of lightness and humor, resulting in a documentary that presents an entirely new narrative and perspective on one of the most unspoken about topics in the modern world today.
Gaga: Five Foot Two
Whack on that steak dress and pull out the meat purse (minds out of the gutter, thank you very much) – Lady Gaga’s taking center stage in this documentary that focuses on the pint-size singer behind the glitz and glam of her on-stage persona. A candid look into the life behind the artist, filmmaker Chris Moukarbel follows Stefani Germanotta to find out why her and ex-fiance Taylor Kinney broke up, her true feelings towards Madonna, and her life dealing with fibromyalgia.
It’s a little self-indulgent and you could argue it’s got the feel of a longform advert for the singer’s next transformation, but if you’re Gaga about Gaga it’s worth a watch. If you’re not, there are far better music docs on Netflix to indulge in.
Get Me Roger Stone (2017)
“He loves the game, he has fun with it, and he’s very good at it.” No – we’re not looking at the profile of the hottest new NFL star. We’re talking about political consultant and “agent provocateur” Roger Stone. Writers and directors Dylan Bank, Daniel DiMauro, and Morgan Pehme crafted this gripping portrait of a political figure who’s about as controversial as they come.
Get Me Roger Stone focuses on the man who considers those who disagree with his ruthless actions “bitter losers”, has a goddamn Nixon tattoo on his back, and who shaped Donald Trump and got him the White House.
Scandals, lies, and dirty, dirty dealings are all in a day’s work in Stone’s world – this documentary explores the life and career of the Republicans’ filthiest trickster and gives a deserving, if terrifying profile of the man who was once described as “the sinister Forrest Gump of American politics”. Yikes!
As the opioid epidemic continues to sweep the US and beyond, Heroin(e) looks at how addiction to such substances affects those who are taking them, focusing on the residents of Huntington, West Virginia a.k.a. “The overdose capital of America”.
Fire Chief Jan Rader is a central figure in this Netflix documentary short from filmmaker Elaine McMillion, who follows the heroin (get it?) of this tale as she spends her days in an endless cycle of trying to revive addicts who have overdosed.
Although it focuses on the devastation caused by the opioid epidemic, this film is also filled with a surprising level of hope as we follow Rader and two other women who stop at nothing to help curb the addiction of their town’s residents.
Hot Girls Wanted (2015)
A truly depressing yet eye-opening watch, Hot Girls Wanted focuses on the dark side of the adult film industry, where young girls with big dreams are poached by sleazy scouts who look for fresh young meat who are willing to do things on camera that, at times, put them both physically and mentally at risk.
Filmmakers Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus paint an alarming picture as they follow five young “hopefuls” as they come to realize that working in the sex industry is less Pretty Woman and more Requiem for a Dream. If you’ve got a kid and you don’t want them to get into the adult movie making business, just show them this doc.
When filmmaker Bryan Fogel (Jewtopia) sought to uncover the truth about doping in sports, he struck filmmaking gold thanks to a chance meeting with a Russian scientist who transformed his documentary from a personal experiment into a geopolitical thriller.
Exposing a trail of cover-ups, lies, an unexpected death, and statewide criminality, Fogel’s film helps to uncover the truth behind the Russian Olympic doping scandal while also scratching the surface of how governments across the world can and do use their power for corruption. It’s a tale of epic proportions, one that plays out like an Orwellian nightmare IRL.
I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead (2016)
Like Gaga: Five Foot Two, this documentary is only really good if you’re into the work of DJ Steve Aoki. If you’re not, there’s still something to be found in its story, which chronicles the musical superstar’s rise to fame, but more essentially the driving force behind his passion.
A heart-pumping yet heart-wrenching documentary, in the lead-up to Aoki’s biggest show of his career, viewers are shown the pressure he feels from his desire to carry the weight of the family name. And if find EDM as insufferable as we do, perhaps bring those earplugs along for the ride (or be prepared for some serious audio abuse).
Into the Inferno (2016)
Because honestly, who could make volcanoes as relentlessly gripping as an edge-of-your-seat thriller? Herzog, that’s who – we are not worthy of his filmmaking talents! In Into the Inferno, the acclaimed German filmmaker waxes lyrical about the beauty of magma, pyroclastic flows, and volcanic eruptions.
Herzog joins volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer as the pair travel the globe and visit volcanoes in Indonesia, Ethiopia, and even North Korea in an attempt to understand our relationship with one of nature’s most violent and magnetic wonders, throwing in some welcome musings on the fragility and lightness of human life.
Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond (2017)
A profile within a profile, this Netflix Originals documentary sees filmmaker Chris Smith take 100 hours from the set of Man on the Moon to show Jim Carrey’s transformation into legendary performance artist and comedian Andy Kaufman. Weaving the 20-year-old footage with new interviews of a bearded, more profound Carrey, this movie is definitely watchable and it’s fascinating to see a comedian give so much to his performance as he refuses to break character (much to the annoyance of those around him).
While Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond isn’t as deep as it thinks it is, it’s still an entertaining watch and one that paints a bizarre and surreal meta-performance from Carrey who stretches himself far past the limitations of many comedians working today.
Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold (2017)
Directed by her nephew Griffin Dunne, The Center Will Not Hold sees the late literary icon Didion reflecting on life, her career, and her various struggles with a staggeringly personal level of intimacy.
So while it might not contain revelations and scandalous new information about the literary figure, who died in 2003 aged 83, Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold does offer up a warm and candid insight into her life that could only come from the craft of a loved one.
Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower (2017)
Get ready to feel you’ve done nothing important with your life when you watch Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower, about 14-year-old Joshua Wong who rallied thousands of kids to the streets when the Chinese Communist Party broke its promise of autonomy to Hong Kong back in 2012.
A true David vs. Goliath story, Joshua turns up to the fight with a proverbial satchel of rocks and uses his defiance and his bravery to stand up for the place he calls home. Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower portrays the propulsive power of youthful idealism and will keep you entertained as any modern action movie would with its portrait of a hero and his fight against a mighty enemy.
Keith Richards: Under the Influence (2015)
In director Morgan Neville’s biographical documentary, we’re given insight into the Rolling Stones guitarist who continues to shock the world by simply being alive – a talent all in itself.
More of a snapshot of the musician in his current, exceedingly positive headspace than a chronological run through of the various highs and lows of his career, Keith Richards: Under the Influence throws in commentary from the likes of Tom Waits, Buddy Guy, Steve Jordan, Waddy Wachtel, and Richards’s long-serving guitar tech Pierre de Beauport.
Keith Richards: Under the Influence is a sentimental watch and one that’s best enjoyed with a whiskey bottle in one hand and a bowl in the other – the key to a long life . . . if you’re Keith Richards.
Kingdom of Us (2017)
You’ll be sobbing like a good’un throughout the entirety of director Lucy Cohen’s heart-rending documentary which offers a touching and intimate view into the lives of a grieving wife and her seven children following the suicide of their father.
With home movies, photos, and interviews, Cohen records the family’s hardships as they attempt to recover both emotionally and financially. We don’t know what else to say other than this film is a brutally honest, harrowing account of tragedy at its most tragic. If that sounds like something you want to watch, check Kingdom of Us out on Netflix today.
Long Shot (2017)
This film will make you say “holy crap” in disbelief as the events unfold to reach a climax that ultimately proves life can be stranger than fiction.
Without being little spoiler demons and giving too much away, Long Shot sees a man accused of murder, whose proclaim of innocence leads his attorney on a wild chase to confirm his alibi using raw footage from Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. Confused? Don’t worry – all will be revealed if you just watch Long Shot.
Mercury 13 (2018)
Who runs the world? Girls, obviously. But back in the late 50s, the world was a very different place – something which is glaringly evident in Mercury 13, which explores how a group of women were left out of the running in the Space Race despite being undoubtedly qualified for the job.
The title refers to thirteen American women who, as part of a secret program, underwent some of the same physiological screening tests as the astronauts selected by NASA in 1959 for Project Mercury – the first human spaceflight program of the United States.
It might not be the best documentary from the streaming platform, but Mercury 13 tells an important story nonetheless, one that probes the struggle for inclusion which seems as relevant now as it did back then.
Mission Blue (2014)
Mission Blue follows oceanographer Sylvia Earle’s campaign to save the world’s oceans from threats such as overfishing and toxic waste. Offering hope on that whole dying Nemo narrative, the 78-year-old activist never ceases to amaze as she dives with sharks, dodges fishing nets, and embarks on a relentless pursuit to turnaround the spoiling of our planet’s most treasured component.
Bryce Groark’s underwater photography is pure visual eye candy, while directors Robert Nixon and Fisher Stevens weave together a biographical portrait of this essential activist and her trailblazing career.
Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press (2017)
Hulk Hogan quibbling about whether or not he has a ten-inch penis proves to be merely the tip of iceberg in this groundbreaking documentary that’ll leave your jaw on the ground.
Brian Knappenberger’s troubling feature starts out by detailing the sensational Hogan vs. Gawker trial, highlighting other wealthy figures who aggressively sought to silence the press in equally as shady and sinister cases. The story swiftly moves past the trial to focus on the bigger picture: the ramifications of the US media at the mercy of the billionaires who run the country.
The film moves on to cover an incident where casino mogul Sheldon Adelson secretly bought the Las Vegas Review Journal, much to the dismay and bewilderment of the journalists employed by the company. As they fight to find out the identity of their new “employer”, we’re shown the integrity and hard work of America’s true journalists and the punishment they face for seeking and exposing the truth.
Although some accused this documentary of lacking in focus, we thought it played out like a political thriller, one that highlights how the moneyed elite has control that goes beyond the power of freedom of speech.
One of Us (2017)
The directors of the Academy Award nominated Jesus Camp once again turned their focus to institutionalized religion, this time in the shape of the Hasidic Jewish community. In One of Us, observational filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady take a look at the lives of three individuals who have chosen to leave the world of Hasidic Judaism, and the potentially life-threatening implications they face in doing so.
Take away the traditions and the terminology and you’d be forgiven for assuming One of Us was about the Church of Scientology, as those who wish to escape face an uncertain future, and in more extreme cases are subjected to threats, abuse, and persecution. As one of the escaped chillingly explains: “Nobody leaves the Hasidic community, unless they’re willing to pay the price.”
Print the Legend (2014)
For a documentary that’s described as “a must see movie for the printing industry”, Print the Legend is actually pretty interesting. Every now and then, a documentary filmmaker chooses the perfect time and winds up capturing history in the making, and this can certainly be said for this film about the 3D printing revolution, tracing its early steps into the mass market.
Print the Legend also explores the relationship between the 3D printing industry and the gun rights advocacy movement, highlighting the fact that yes, 3D printers can print guns, but more importantly – why are so many people focused on printing 3D guns and not just printing out pizza slices and cans of beer and homes to live in so we can all sit the fuck back down and put the future of technology to good use. Here’s hoping!
The Rachel Divide (2018)
You won’t be able to stop shouting at the screen the moment you start watching Laura Brownson’s disturbing portrait of the white woman who thinks she’s black. The film follows the well-known public figure Rachel Dolezal – the “transracial” activist who caused a media storm when she was outed as a white woman (despite the fact she was living as the black president of the NAACP).
Capturing the intimate life story of the damaged character, the film also explores how Dolezal continues to provoke, offend, and divide millions of people worldwide, with many seeing her as the ultimate example of white privilege.
Ram Dass, Going Home (2017)
For those of you not familiar with the work of Ram Dass, he’s a true cultural icon of the 60s and 70s – a pioneer in psychedelic and spiritual teachings, author of Be Here Now, and an outspoken advocate for death and dying awareness (something many of us struggle with, particularly in the Western world).
As he now approaches the end of his life, this film shows Dass putting his teachings into practice, living his last days out in Maui and deepening his spiritual practice which centers on love and the merging of himself with his surroundings and the natural world.
If you’re feeling out of sorts and the hustle and bustle of city life is grinding those gears, Ram Dass, Going Home is well worth a watch and might just lead you to a path of spiritual discovery.
Recovery Boys (2018)
Award-winning director Elaine Mcmillion turns her focus to America’s opioid crisis and once again offers hope in the face of adversity. An intimate look at the strength, courage, and support it takes to overcome addiction, Recovery Boys follows four men on an 18-month journey as they battle opioid dependency.
It ain’t easy, and at times it ain’t pretty; it takes a whole lotta hard work and a whole lotta swearing, but ultimately what comes of it is a film that opens up meaningful discussions about an issue of epidemic proportions.
Saving Capitalism (2017)
The phrase “for the many, not the few” does not apply in the world of ruthless capitalism. Jacob Kornbluth and Sari Gilman’s Netflix Originals documentary follows former Secretary of Labor and professor Robert Reich, as he takes his book and his views to the heart of a capitalist America to speak about the rising gap between the rich and the poor, highlighting a broken system while suggesting big ideas on how to fix it.
Although you’ll feel a bit like you’re doing your homework while watching it, Saving Capitalism is an engaging and thought-provoking film and one that you’ll come away from with a fresh perspective on the country’s economic system.
Seeing Allred (2018)
Are you seeing red? Civil rights attorney Gloria Allred certainly is in Roberta Grossman and Sophie Sartain’s documentary and she’s not standing down. Released at a time when the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements have engulfed the entertainment industry and beyond, and the issue of sexual violence grips the nation, Seeing Allred provides a candid look at one of the most public crusaders against the war on women.
As a woman who’s somewhat of a household name and renowned for being a “pit-bull lawyer”, you could argue there’s a level of grit missing from this documentary for a story that has a lot of it.
Nonetheless, Seeing Allred incorporates rare archival footage and revealing interviews from her supporters and critics alike, offering a captivating portrait examining Allred’s personal experiences that act as her driving force as she works on high-profile cases against Bill Cosby and Donald Trump.
Sky Ladder: The Art of Cai Guo-Qiang (2016)
There’s a colorful flavor to the work of Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang, captured beautifully in director Kevin Macdonald’s feature documentary profiling the creative and his chosen medium to deliver his art – explosions. Combining space, scale, invention, color, and light, Cai is turning the idea of what art is on its head by using gunpowder and explosions to create his pieces.
If you’re interested in seeing a revolutionary in his own right as he embarks on one of his most challenging projects to date, Sky Ladder: The Art of Cai Guo-Qiang will provide you with that and more, following Cai as he attempts an exhibition project comprising the creation of a 1,650-foot ladder that reaches into the sky before it’s lit up, leaving a glowing image of a path to “the heavens”.
Strong Island (2017)
A deeply intimate and meditative film, Strong Island is an achingly personal true-crime documentary that centers on the murder of director Yance Ford’s own brother. The case involves William Ford Jr. – a 24-year-old black high school teacher from Long Island – who was murdered by a white 19-year-old student back in 1992.
Strong Island seeks to expose the judicial system that allowed William’s killer to walk free, interrogating the murderous fear and racialized perception that infiltrates modern society in a bid to challenge perceptions and ignite change.
Take Your Pills (2018)
Adderall has become the nation’s version of Popeye’s spinach, as the rampant use of stimulants in America (particularly among students) is not only entirely acceptable, but also encouraged.
Take Your Pills is a refreshingly informative documentary that doesn’t rely on its scare tactics to get the point across, instead choosing to speak to its subjects to answer some of the questions surrounding the use of Adderall and other prescription stimulants and how they’ve become the defining drugs of this generation.
Although the film lacks focus somewhat (there’s a pill for that), Take Your Pills is informative and comprehensive in its tackling of the subject matter.
Orlando von Einsiedel’s (The White Helmets) Oscar-nominated documentary focuses on the park rangers at the Virunga National Park in the Congo, and their struggle to protect the mountain gorillas who live there.
Showing viewers that sometimes humans can be alright, this incredible true story portrays the brave individuals who risk their own lives to protect the remaining mountain gorillas. No, we’re not crying – we’ve just got something in our eye.
What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015)
Liz Garbus’s (Girlhood) epic documentary on the iconic singer, songwriter, and activist Nina Simone is so powerful, you’ll be sobbing due to the overwhelming range of emotions that are present within her story.
Following the high priestess of soul through the various challenges and successes of her musical career to her participation in the civil rights movement of the 60s and the toll it took on her mental health, What Happened, Miss Simone is at once heart-rending, inspiring, and powerful.
The White Helmets (2016)
Orlando von Einsiedel’s Oscar-winning short documentary looks at a group of indomitable volunteer rescue workers who risk their own lives to save civilians amidst the turmoil and violence in Syria and Turkey.
The story of their bravery is told via three rescue workers from the White Helmets – also known as the Syrian Civil Defense – who train in Turkey in order to provide medical assistance to those who need it most. It’s a humbling and engaging documentary showing that not all heroes wear capes.
Abstract: The Art of Design (2017 – )
A feast for those hungry eyes and for the mind, Abstract: The Art of Design highlights the talents of the most innovative designers in a variety of disciplines, stepping into their minds to teach audiences how design impacts every aspect of life. Pitched to be like the Chef’s Table for design, the show doesn’t quite reach the same watchability and is ultimately mundane and kinda hard work.
At forty minutes per episode, the show could’ve benefited from a tighter editing process regarding the pacing and the subject matter it chose to portray. It’s a shame because the subjects – including Christoph Niemann, Tinker Hatfield, Bjarke Ingels, and Ralph Gilles, among others – show a range of talent and are all true innovators in their field.
Still, if you’re a bit of a design geek or you’re kinda high and need something cool to stare at for a few hours, Abstract: The Art of Design is the one.
Bobby Kennedy for President (2018)
This four-part Netflix Originals docuseries from Dawn Porter is a gripping and engaging watch, combining never-before-seen archived footage with insightful interviews that delve into the changes in the former Attorney General’s outlook and political beliefs over the 60s, especially after the death of his older brother, John F. Kennedy.
While many documentaries have focused on his brother, Bobby Kennedy for President reaches an entirely new audience who may be unaware of a lot of the info the film covers – a must-binge event for all inquisitive history lovers.
From the producer and director of The Bourne Identity, Doug Liman, comes this docuseries deep diving into the terse, dangerous world of hostage negotiation. Utilizing the action-packed dramatics of Liman’s filmmaking skillset, each episode of Captive focuses on a different hostage situation, which is reconstructed as the victims recount their harrowing ordeals.
We’re taken from full-throttle prison fights, to Al Qaeda hostages in Yemen, to American missionaries kidnapped in the Philippines, but we’re also shown the story from all different angles – the victims, the bystanders, and even the perpetrators. The stories are told in a linear manner, giving the reenactments a sense of urgency and panic, making this a tense and gripping watch that matches the action of Liman’s fictional narratives.
Chef’s Table (2015 – )
If Chef’s Table were pornography, it’d be the kind of high-end erotica production that wouldn’t be caught dead on the likes of Pornhub. Via a series of beautifully shot profiles, this wildly popular Netflix Originals docuseries offers viewers a global taste-test of the most creative innovators working in the culinary industry.
The reason we love to watch this show isn’t just for sheer gluttony (we’ve got Man vs. Food for that) – it’s the stories behind the dishes, filled with passion, drive, and dedication to create the most unique, high-end dining experiences that we just love to watch in this age of “cool culinary” modern food mania.
The Confession Tapes (2017 – )
Don’t be fooled by the social media statements billing The Confession Tapes the next bingeworthy morsel for your true crime hunger. Don’t get us wrong – journalist and documentarian Kelly Loudenberg’s efforts are not without merit, as the show grapples with the phenomenon of false confessions.
Each episode goes inside a case in which a murder suspect made a confession but later backtracked, weaving together interviews with investigators, lawyers, wrongful conviction experts, and people close to those involved in the cases.
But we should warn you that in dealing with such weighty subject matter, including a heartbreaking case in which a mother whose daughter was killed in a house fire is intimidated into making a false confession, The Confession Tapes is a docuseries you’ll want to do anything but bingewatch. Start with an episode a week and see how you get on – it’s fascinating and well constructed, but ever-so hard to watch.
Cooked is kinda similar to Chef’s Table in its high-end production that makes a meal out of a show that’s essentially about how we refuel our bodies. But you wouldn’t think it, as the docuseries plays out like an emotive art house movie.
Explored through the lenses of the four natural elements – fire, water, air, and earth – Cooked focuses on the evolution of what food means to us through the history of food prep and how it breaks down the world’s barriers to connect us as humans.
The only issue is Cooked’s based on an endlessly broad topic, which is perhaps why the show, while it contains its moments of enlightenment and charm, comes off as a little overstuffed. You could say it bit off more than it could chew (pun intended).
Dirty Money (2018 – )
Ever wonder how the rich always get richer? It’s not always legal or moral methods – many of those who’ve floated to the top have had to use some dirty, dirty tactics. Netflix’s six-part docuseries by Alex Gibney explores corporate malfeasance via the stories of scandal in big business, exposing the nastiness and ruthless nature of greed and corruption with stories from the viewpoints of the perpetrators and their victims.
One of the stories explored involves a car company that cheats emissions tests to save money. And of course, what would this series be if it didn’t focus on the shady deals in Donald Trump’s business empire and the dirty dealings of king d-bag, Martin Shkreli.
Drug Lords (2018)
Netflix added another solid bingewatch to its ever-expanding library of druggie dramas with Drug Lords. In addition to profiling the well-known cases such as the infamous Pablo Escobar and his nearly 20-year stranglehold on the world’s cocaine market, it also spotlights the smaller players with just as fascinating stories, including Cornell Jones who helped to create America’s first “open-air” drug market in Washington, D.C. in the 80s.
So if you’re looking to sharpen up on some of the lesser-known drug dynasties you’ve never heard of (in between watching reruns of Narcos), Drug Lords is well worth a punt.
Evil Genius: The True Story of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist
Holy crap balls, Evil Genius is worth your time. With an opener showing the real-life (and quite frankly, disturbing) footage from the pizza bomber heist, Barbara Schroeder’s four-part docuseries dives deep to figure out who was the mastermind(s) behind the crime, and was the victim in fact also a suspect?
The deeper she goes, the stranger it gets. This is the perfect watch for true crime obsessives and while its ending leaves a few questions unanswered, it wraps up with enough revelations to keep viewers satisfied. If you don’t bingewatch this whole thing in the space of four hours, there’s something wrong with your viewing habits.
Explained (2018 – )
An encyclopedia for the modern world, Netflix and Vox’s Explained offers clear, focused information on chaotic topics such as the rise of cryptocurrency, why diets don’t work, and the wondrous world of K-pop.
The show’s success against other flops with a similar premise is that it illuminates how events from the past have shaped our modern times, and it does so in a short time frame which is a tricky thing to do. Delivering in every episode and providing a captivating snapshot into a variety of subjects, we’d recommend enjoying this show after smoking a bowl with a giant bag of Cheez-Its at hand.
First Team: Juventus (2018 – )
Although we’re partial to a good sports docuseries, unfortunately Netflix’s First Team: Juventus was a little unsatisfying, made all the more disappointing by the fact that its subject matter is so strong. The show takes viewers behind the scenes to explore the compelling stories and characters of the renowned football club Juventus as the squad makes its way through the 2017-2018 Serie A season.
It looks good and the lens does turn its focus to the human side of the beautiful game, but ultimately the series just doesn’t give its viewers a whole lot of anything. Style over substance, some might say.
Flint Town (2018 – )
This docuseries sheds light on a US town in crisis, weaving a story that acts as a glaring symbol of the nation’s policing failures. Flint is among the country’s most violent cities and its residents have little trust in law enforcement officials in the wake of the coverup of a regional water contamination that brought the city into the national spotlight.
This observational documentary features filmmakers who embed with FPD officers as they face infrastructure issues and decreasing resources while risking their lives to protect and serve the community of around 100,000 people.
But what makes Flint Town is the characters, as we’re shown their personal struggles and the emotional toll they take on the residents and officers of a town that has been chipped away by corruption, violence, and poverty.
Girls Incarcerated (2018 – )
There are countless docuseries highlighting America’s “broken” prison system, but Girls Incarcerated offers a fresh, new perspective, focusing on the harsh reality of being a girl in a juvenile delinquent institution. This series follows teenage girls who are incarcerated at a juvenile correctional facility in Madison, Indiana, documenting what their lives are like behind bars.
And let’s just say, it ain’t always pretty, but among the heartache and struggles hope can be found. Girls Incarcerated is an emotional roller coaster of a bingewatch; one that will open your eyes to a system gone wrong.
Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On (2017 – )
Like Hot Girls Wanted but a more comprehensive insight into how the intersection of sex, technology, and intimate relationships is rewiring us in fundamental ways. This six-part series is less judgemental than its feature-length predecessor, yet it instills as much fear as Black Mirror – perhaps even more so since the stories are based in reality.
Produced by Parks & Recreation star Rashida Jones alongside Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradu, each episode of Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On tackles a different subject, covering Tinder and how it takes away the humanity of dating, the ups and downs of the camming industry, the fetishisation of black men by the porn industry, and the infamous criminal case in which a teenage girl live-streamed her friend’s rape.
It goes without saying that Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On is not for the faint-hearted.
Jack Whitehall: Travels with My Father
If you like British posh boys and you don’t find Jack Whitehall aggressively irritating, you’ll probably love this travel docuseries in which the standup comedian forces his even posher dad to join him on a trip out of his comfort zone and across Southeast Asia for a series of totally, like definitely, not setup experiences. The dad’s stuffy, the son’s jovial – they’re like chalk & cheese. Such japes!
The Keepers (2017)
There are no two ways about it – this Netflix Originals docuseries will destroy you emotionally. Tackling the unsolved murder of Sister Cathy Cesnik – a beloved nun and Catholic high school teacher in Baltimore – a group of brave young women seek the truth behind the case.
However, along the way they end up uncovering decades of sexual abuse carried out at Baltimore’s Archbishop Keough High School and the pain that lingers nearly five decades after her death.
Last Chance U (2016 – )
This Netflix Originals series focuses on the American football program at East Mississippi Community College, following a group of young men on the brink of becoming NFL stars. The question is, can they overcome their past struggles in order to flourish and shine in the future?
Find out the answer and more in this highly emotional docuseries. What’s great about Last Chance U is that you don’t have to love or even understand football to enjoy it – but you are advised to keep the Kleenex closeby to mop up those tears.
Making a Murderer (2016 – )
Now a household name, the true crime saga was elevated to killer heights upon the release of Netflix’s Making A Murderer – arguably the kickstarter for the widespread obsession for this genre of docuseries. When it hit our screens back in 2016, the name on everyone’s lips was Steven Avery and the injustice he’d (seemingly) experienced at the hands of the American judicial system.
While we’re of the view there are better true crime docs out there (hello, The Jinx) and perhaps the episodes could’ve been shaved down slightly, Making a Murderer is still an absolute staple and one that continues to impact the case it investigates.
Wild, Wild Country (2018 – )
The vision was to create a community based on compassion and sharing. What could possibly go wrong? As docuseries Wild, Wild Country so uncompromisingly shows, the answer is a lot.
Over six episodes, the Duplass brothers’ Wild, Wild Country takes viewers back to this pivotal, yet largely forgotten moment in American cultural history, centering on the controversial cult leader Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, his one-time personal assistant Ma Anand Sheela, and their group of followers in the Rajneeshpuram community located in Wasco County, Oregon.
With a story so wild you’ll have a hard time believing it, we follow Rajneesh and his community as they build a utopian city in the Oregon desert, resulting in conflict with the locals that escalated into a national scandal. It truly is one of the most compelling and intricate Netflix Originals documentaries to have ever landed on the streaming service and well worth a binge or rebinge (we’re guessing it’s the latter).
The absolute hero behind The Thin Blue Line – Errol Morris – returned to the small screen with this compelling miniseries in which he blends documentary with dramatic reconstructions to unravel the secrets behind the strange saga of scientist Frank Olson’s death.
Wormwood is a stunning true crime saga and one that touches upon acid spiking, a CIA coverup, Project MKUltra, and state-run mind control, all told via Olsen’s son’s obsessive mission to find out the truth behind why his father plummeted to his death from a 13th-floor Manhattan hotel room.
A groundbreaking watch with gargantuan revelations, Wormwood is intricate in its storytelling, providing just enough drama to offer succinct explanations while keeping those jaws to the ground as the story unfolds.