Bring the chill inside with top true-crime TV
Here, ready to stream, are some engrossing documentaries as well as a satirical send-up of the gritty genre in mockumentary form
Ever since the 2014 Serial podcast and Netflix’s Making a Murderer in 2015, we’re in the midst of a boom in true crime documentary. Audiences have been captivated by stories of unsolved murders, wrongful convictions and everything in between. And with the recent debut of Making a Murderer Part 2, the flood of docs shows no signs of slowing down.
If you’ve already devoured all 10 episodes of Murderer Part 2 or are just looking for a new mystery, here are some great true-crime films and series (and one hilarious parody) available to stream.
Keepers is likely the best true-crime docuseries in the recent wave and certainly the best one Netflix has released. Ostensibly about the 1969 unsolved murder of Sister Cathy Cesnik, a nun and teacher, as investigated by her former students, the series is also about how power structures, including local governments and the Catholic Church, conspire to hide the truth and keep victims silent. Beyond exposing corruption, crimes and coverups, Keepers stands out because of the care and compassion with which the creators treat their subjects. (Netflix) Evil Genius: The True Story of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist
If you prefer more subtle docs that guide — rather than drag — you through the story, Evil Genius is not for you. But if you don’t mind something less artfully done with a fantastic story, it’s worth a try. Of all the “stranger than fiction” tales, Evil Genius might be the weirdest, chronicling the infamous 2003 “pizza bomber,” in which a delivery man in Erie, Penn., robbed a bank with a bomb strapped to his neck, claiming he was being forced to do so. (Netflix)
Wild Wild Country
At first, this 2018 series doesn’t seem like a true-crime saga, but it unfolds into a twisty, conspiracy-laden thriller that surprises you at every turn. Countryis an exhaustive look at what happened when a cult (the Rajneeshee community) purchased a swath of Oregon land in the 1980s to create a utopia. Things went very wrong in the nearby community and within the cult’s own followers. (Netflix) The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of
Although this 2015 HBO series was an early entrant into the recent true-crime wave, it remains one of the most revealing. The series dug into the case of Durst, the black-sheep son of a real-estate mogul, suspected of killing three people in a two-decade span. Without spoiling its bombshell ending, let’s just say that the filmmakers were able to reveal more about their subject than he likely anticipated. (Crave)
The Paradise Lost trilogy
One thing that makes Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, first film in HBO’s trilogy about the West Memphis Three, so effective is that it doesn’t take sides but simply acts as the objective voice in a case that didn’t have many: the 1993 Arkansas murders of three young boys and the three teens convicted of the crimes, supposedly as part of a Satanic ritual. Directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky tip the tone more toward advocacy for the teens’ innocence in the lesser followups, Paradise Lost 2: Revelations (2000) and Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (2011), but the story’s happy ending makes all three movies must-watches. (Crave)
Released in three instalments over the past two decades, The Staircase provides incredibly intimate access to Michael Peterson, a man accused of killing his wife, Kathleen, in 2001, but who contends she died after falling down the stairs. Peterson is one of the most fascinating subjects, but the ambiguous series, thorough as it is, likely won’t convince you of either his guilt or innocence. (Netflix)
O.J.: Made in America
This Oscar and Emmy-winning documentary is partly an examination of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, partly a biography of O.J. Simpson and partly a history of race in 20th-century America. The greatest accomplishment of O.J. is telling a story we’re all familiar with — Simpson’s rise and fall — while adding something new to the narrative. (Crave)
Adocumentary blended with dramatic recreation, Errol Morris pushes the boundaries of the genre in this 2017 miniseries while investigating the theory that the CIA tested psychotropic drugs on its own employees and then mounted a coverup after experiments went terribly wrong. The documentary, combined with haunting performances by Peter Sarsgaard, Molly Parker and Jimmi Simpson, make Wormwood as unsettling as the material it covers. (Netflix) American Vandal It’s not true crime, but if you’re in the mood to have all the hallmarks and idiosyncrasies of the true-crime genre hilar- iously and expertly satirized, enjoy this mockumentary series that applies the formula to high school pranks. The first season, which investigates who graffitied teachers’ cars with penises, is pure parody, but the second, about a series of poop-related crimes, is a deeper examination of the pressures of adolescence. (Netflix)
Sister Cathy Cesnik, whose unsolved 1969 murder is explored in the Netflix documentary series The Keepers, is pictured with her father, Joseph Cesnik.