culture

The 20 Best Docuseries On Netflix You Need to Watch Right Now

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Netflix

If there’s ever a time to watch hundreds of hours of television, it’s now.  

You’ve exhausted all the Seamless favorites.

You’ve texted all the exes to see “how they’re holding up”.

You’ve started and quit running 3 times.

The following list, in no particular order, is 20 documentary series that will help you get through the next few months/forever of quarantine.

1. ‘Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez’

The story of former tight end Aaron Hernandez has always been a bit of a mystery. Handsome and charismatic, Hernandez was a rising star at the beginning of an illustrious football career. Drafted after his junior year in college by the New England Patriots, he found himself signing a five-year extension contract in August 2012 to the tune of $40 million. 

A year later, he was arrested for the murder of Odin Lloyd. Exploring Hernandez’s tumultuous upbringing as well as his life on and off the field, this true-crime series explores all the factors that led to Hernandez’s life sentence and eventual prison cell suicide.

2. ‘Explained’

What makes Explained so enjoyable is that while it feels similar to going down a Wikipedia rabbit hole, it won’t steal hours and hours of your life. Presented in highly digestible 20-minute segments, Netflix has teamed up with news site Vox to covers a myriad of topics like the stock market, monogamy, why women are paid less, cults, and the racial wealth gap (a personal favorite). Expect each episode to be voiced by some of your favorite celebrities, from Kristen Bell and Nick Kroll, and be sure to check out the latest episode, “Coronavirus, Explained”.

3. ‘Documentary Now!’

Parodying some of the most well-known documentaries including Grey Gardens, History of the Eagles, and The Artist is Present, the genius minds of SNL greats Fred Armisen, Seth Meyers, Bill Hader, Rhys Thomas, and Alex Buono have created a hilarious and smart mockumentary series, keeping an eye on not only the content but filming style and score. Some of the more notable episodes are the VICE-styled “DRONEZ: The Hunt for El Chingon” which follows two hipster journalists looking for a notorious drug lord and and “Batsh*t Valley, Parts 1 and 2,” a look at a cult’s takeover of a small town in Oregon (and a very clear homage to Wild Wild West). If you need any more convincing, every episode is hosted by Helen Mirren.

4. ‘Wild Wild Country’

During the 1980s, self-professed guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and his followers left India for the small town of Antelope, Oregon, with the goal of setting up a base camp for their spiritual community, Rajneeshpuram. What followed were the typical narratives associated with cults, with orgies and members being coerced to give up all their money and possessions, but what made this organization truly frightening are the stories of bombings, militarized violence, poisonings, bioterrorism, and Sheela, Rajneesh’s right-hand woman who stops at nothing to protect him, including murder. 

Cults, man.

5. ‘Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness’

I’ll admit that I was completely skeptical about watching Tiger King, but there were too many recommendations from co-workers to ignore it forever. To give you a quick rundown: In the first episode of this seven-part docuseries, we meet Joe Exotic, an aspiring country singer/private zoo owner who is facing a 79-year sentence for devising a plan to murder his arch-nemesis, Carole Baskin. It’s not until episode two where we learn that it’s been rumored that Baskin, founder of animal sanctuary Big Cat Rescue, killed her first husband and fed him to her tigers—following so far? Cool because it’s episode three where things actually start getting crazy.

6. ‘Cheer’

You’ve likely already heard of Cheer from the many celebrity fans like Chrissy Teigen, Gabrielle Union, Anna Camp and Reese Witherspoon. You don’t have to understand the competitive world of cheer to get into this highly addictive series about the talented Navarro College Bulldogs Cheer Team from Texas. The six episodes focus on five of the members as they train and prepare for “Daytona”–the National Cheerleading Association’s championship competition in Florida. Before you know it, you’ll find yourself invested in the team and their triumphs and tribulations.

7. ‘Don’t F*ck with Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer’

This one gets pretty gross. In 2010, a series of videos were posted on Facebook, depicting a man playing with kittens before killing them (I know, I’m sorry.)  What follows is a story about the group of inquisitive and determined people who use these videos to track down the kitten killer, Luka Magnotta, who later gets convicted of murdering a Lin Jun, an international student from China.

8. ‘Our Planet’

To take a much-needed break from murder and crime, enjoy the wonderful content of this Emmy-awarded documentary series as it explores our oceans, forests, and deserts and the animals that live there. Each episode examines the damage that humans have inflicted in these areas with pollutants, disease, and climate change in order to provoke widespread change.

9. ‘100 Humans’

Do attractive people get less jail time? Do we work harder if we think we might be punished? Do older people have a smell? This series asks 100 humans to take part in experiments monitoring human behavior, with surprising and fun results.

10. ‘The Devil Next Door’

In his Ukrainian neighborhood in Cleveland, John Demjanjuk was known as a family man, a mild-mannered grandfather who had worked for Ford Auto. However, in 1981, John Demjanjuk was also accused of being a former Nazi-prison camp guard, a violent man who tortured many Jewish people during his time in Poland. This true-crime documentary is layered and unsettling, interviewing many people around Demjanjuk as it tries to find clarity through the testimonies, footage, and long-buried memories.

11. ‘The Keepers’

In 1969, Sister Catherine Anne Cesnik, an English and drama teacher in Baltimore, left her apartment to shop for an engagement present for her sister. That was the last time she was seen alive; her body was found two months later in a landfill. Although her killer remains unknown, former students believe her murder was connected to a priest at the same school who was later convicted of sexual abuse.

12. ‘Dark Tourist’

What factors go into the planning of your vacations? Location? Finances? Proximity to death? In the series Dark Tourist, host David Farrier explores a subset of tourism where travelers seek out locations that are associated with devastation. If this doesn’t make you feel wholly uneasy, follow Farrier as he takes a tour of the locations where Jeffrey Dahmer committed his murders or visit Aokigahara in Japan, also known as “Suicide Forest.”

13. ‘Flint Town’

While the Flint water crisis brought the issues of this Michigan city into the spotlight, six years have passed, and Flint still struggles. A lack of jobs, high poverty rate, understaffed police departments, rising racial tensions, and growing criminal activity on top of a water supply contaminated with lead makes this documentary a heartbreaking, yet necessary, watch.

14. ‘I am a Killer’

Will we ever tire of watching grisly interviews with the most notorious killers known to man? It doesn’t seem likely. Often heralded as the next Making a Murderer, we hear Death Row inmates recount the details of their horrific crimes throughout twenty episodes.  While many discuss their motivations, what’s truly chilling is watching them speak on whether they regret their actions.

15. ‘The Story of God with Morgan Freeman’

Who better suited to walk you through the divisive topics related to religion than the man who played God in Bruce Almighty and Evan Almighty than Morgan Freeman? Freeman grapples some of our biggest questions while exploring how different cultures approach miracles, the existence of God, heaven and hell, and what happens after death.

16. ‘Last Chance U’

While the number of documentaries about the hardships of being an athlete is endless, the ones that focus on junior colleges are considerably smaller. This series follows the football players of East Mississippi Community College and the daily obstacles they face from academic setbacks to disadvantaged backgrounds. The takeaway is evident: For many on the team, this is the “last chance” they have to turn their lives around and get on a better path. Powerful and emotional, you’ll find yourselves rooting for these young men.

17. ‘Dirty Money’

Drug trafficking. Money laundering. Con men. Price gouging. 

When it comes to fraud in the financial sector, this investigative series explores aspects of corporate greed and corruption through the lens of well-known scandals. The second season just aired in March so you can binge on twelve hour-long episodes.

18. ‘The Pharmacist’

Danny Schneider was just 22-years-old when he was found dead in his pick-up truck, having been shot in the head. Discovered in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans with cash in his hand, police believe Schneider was in the middle of a cocaine deal gone bad. What follows is his father’s heartbreaking journey to find his son’s killer and bring him to justice; what unfolds is a story about loss, determination, and the rising opioid crisis.

19. ‘Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak’

Released January 2020, this series covers all the things pandemic related. Informative and compelling, we hear from notable scientists in the field and doctors in the front line while examining the latest research. They even cover topics such as Ebola, influenza, and anti-vaxxers. Let’s call this extremely timely.

20. ‘The Family’

The Family, also known as The Fellowship, is the most secretive and powerful organization you’ve never heard of...until now. Extremely well-connected with members holding influential positions in Washington, this true-crime series gives the viewer a glimpse into this clandestine Christian political group.

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