I’ve noticed that I’ve been really watching a buttload of documentaries in “quarantine”—I put it in quotes because I’m pretty sure the rest of the world is no longer quarantined but fun fact: when you’re unemployed, quarantine never ends. I’ve always loved a good true crime doc so I can pretend that my several years of watching cop shows and one semester of a Forensics class have qualified me to solve crimes. Typically immediately after I watch a true crime doc, I speak to everyone I know and even some people that I don’t about the details of this horrific crime sometimes even becoming a truther attempting to exonerate murderers who have been sentenced and are currently sitting in jail like I’m Kim Kardashian or something. (See: Stephen Avery & Scott Peterson) HOWEVER, I found myself really reaching beyond the typical true crime doc these past few months and expanding my doc horizons. And all of this consumption has compelled me to yap my face off about the things that I’ve found and now believe I’m an expert on. If you would like doc recommendations, or just want to feel exponentially smarter from watching hours and hours of TV like I do, feel free to browse the below list of documentaries that I’ve consumed over the past 6 months. And if I might add an overall comment, incorporating actual text messages into many of these docs has really added a whole new layer of invasiveness and enhances my incredibly nosy viewing experience tenfold. BRAVA.
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark – HBO
I was overly-hyped for this. I had heard through Twitterland that this doc focused on Michelle McNamara, a crime writer married to comedian Patton Oswalt, who invested her time focusing on the Golden State Killer and cracked the case on her own. I love Hollywood and I love murders so this seemed like a real match made in heaven. Unfortunately, that was quite a Twitter exaggeration. Michelle was writing a book entitled “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark” about the Golden State Killer and was getting access to the case documents and immersing herself in all of the evidence and details of his murders in the 80’s but there were a lot of other people doing the same thing she was doing as well. Most of the victims, people from the town, law enforcement and others had formed groups and were determined to solve this open case. Tragically, Michelle died before finishing the book or seeing the arrest of the Golden State Killer. The doc is through the lens of Michelle’s work and includes a lot of victim personal accounts. Due to the fact that they did not find the killer until recently and the crimes took place 30+ years ago, there wasn’t a lot to offer by way of video evidence or footage so there was a lot of reenactment, which I have a hard time taking seriously. What I did take seriously was the one recorded phone call they had of the GSK saying “I’ll kill you bitch” which they chose to play 900000 times and I chose to crap my pants each time it was played. As someone who was not familiar with the Golden State Killer, I found the details about his crimes very interesting, especially because he was so prolific for many years, breaking into people’s homes at night, raping and killing. So basically every fear of mine come to life whenever I’m home alone. Even though I found it interesting, I did start to get a little bored after the third episode and therefore this wasn’t an overwhelming home run for me in the doc department. Adding in Michelle’s tragic story created another interesting layer, but I feel like it could’ve been wrapped up a little neater. Also by interesting I mean kind of horrifying because she was terrified and had stopped sleeping because of how much she had immersed herself in this case. And she didn’t even get to see this scumbucket finally get caught. And not for nothing, but how OUTRAGEOUS is it when serial killers have a family and everyone’s like yeah we had no clue dad/my husband/Uncle Joe was raping and murdering 5 nights a week. WUT?!
The Vow – HBO
I cannot stress enough how obsessed I am with this story and documentary. For those looking for a quick and dirty doc, this is not it as it’s episodic and each episode is an hour long. They release a new one each week, so if you’d rather binge I suggest waiting until they’re all up—right now there are 7 episodes out there. This series follows the cult NXIVM, which holds a special place in many of our hearts as it was a hometown cult. Started by Keith Raniere in Clifton Park, NY, anyone from the Cap Region might have heard about this through the years or might even know someone who was involved. As a Saratoga Resident for 10ish years, I gleefully outbursted when Keith described Clifton Park as the “Rome of the modern day” and texted my old co-workers when our radio station banners were hung in the gym where Vanguard invites everyone to watch him play volleyball every night. I even got excited when I saw the Dalai Lama visit The Palace Theatre. So I would say it’s especially a must-watch for people who live in that area because they have TONS of video footage from the former cult members who are the main focus of this doc, plus it’s not often that HBO shines a spotlight on dear old CP also referred to as Albany almost exclusively throughout the series even though they are completely different cities. But anyway, let’s get to the real meat here which is that NXIVM started as self-help classes and preyed on people who were kind of lost in their career or life path and told them to sign up for a couple thousand dollar course and start working the stripe path to get different colored sashes and eventually have the opportunity to bone Keith Raniere, one of the schlubbiest looking men alive. Let me be clear, this is not coming from a judgmental place. Well, the sex with Keith part is. But falling for this cult thing is not and mostly because I know for a fact I would’ve fallen for this. I, too, am a wayward soul looking for happiness. And if someone approached me and was like I know how to guarantee you’ll be happy again, I’d be like yeah bitch let’s do this. Unfortunately once I attended my first volleyball game where Keith is wearing a sweatband in his long grey hair and being treated like a sex symbol, mouth kissing everyone’s faces off I’d be swiftly out. But that’s just me. The details of this cult are not only baffling, but the fact that it went on for 20+ years before law enforcement was involved is nuts beyond belief. Since I’ve already babbled on too long and I could probably talk forever about my fascination with NXIVM, I’ll just say watch it and get back to me. I mean, literally I brought this shit up in therapy and my therapist had to tell me 3-4 times that she’s not an expert on this cult before I finally gave it up. SO JUST WATCH IT, OK?!
The Social Dilemma – Netflix
This doc interviews executives in some of the largest internet and social media companies and brings to light just HOW MUCH the internet was created to stalk our lives. It’s an eye opening experience for all generations because as much as adults want to say they’re too old for social media, look no further than Facebook to see the olds POPPIN OFF on the daily. So it really applies to all ages here. There are astonishing facts about how the rate of suicide and mental health issues in middle school age children skyrocketed after the invention of social media. There’s explanations as to how people who wrote the actual algorithms to keep you hooked online fall for the same pitfalls we do even though they created it. So basically this is the doc for anyone whose ever had a conversation about getting a new vacuum cleaner and then the next time they open Facebook or Google, there’s ads for vacuum cleaners. It’s crazy and invasive and yet I will never ever ever give up social media and you can’t MAKE ME. But seriously, lots of interesting stuff and then a little bit of “the internet is going to ruin the world” vibes as well. Take that with a grain of salt. It seems like the world is crashing and burning all on its own with minimal interference from the internet but whatevs.
This is Paris – YouTube
Yes that’s right I’ll even stoop to Youtube if it means getting to pull the curtain back on an infamous celeb. Although I really wanted this to be about Paris’ lavish upbringing and how she came to basically create reality TV and the “famous for nothing” crew (lookin at you, Kimmy K)…what it was really about was much darker than that. When Paris was in her teen years she was sent to a bunch of different behavioral correction schools, escaping them all and finally ending up in one out in Utah where she and the other “students” were mentally, physically & sexually abused. And Paris never even told her parents this until recently, just burying the trauma until she decided to seek justice and reunite with old classmates through this doc. Overall I’d say it was interesting to see a lot of public things that Paris did through the new perspective knowing that she was abused for several years when she was forming her identity. She admits that most of her relationships have been abusive, even showing paparazzi photos where she has bruises all over her body. Obviously she touches on the sex tape and how she was coerced into it by her first real boyfriend who she was trying to impress. And probably the most interesting tidbit of them all, Paris is Keyser Soze. She’s secretly brilliant and has been putting on this dum dum “That’s Hot” act ever since the early 2000’s. In her child slavery schools she was forced to clean so acting like she didn’t know what a sponge was in “The Simple Life” was pure acting talent. Her normal voice octave isn’t breathy and moronic. Bitch has been playing the media for decades and has made billions off of it. Watching this unfold throughout the documentary leading up to the point when one of her former fellow students pointed out that she was a physics brainiac in school was the moment when Keyser Soze loses the limp at the end of the movie (spoiler alert). Glass shattered. Paris is smarter than us all. Also, hands down best scene of the whole thing is when Paris is DJ’ing Tomorrowland, the biggest festival she’s ever played, and her drunk insecure boyf picks a fight with her minutes before she’s supposed to go on and she loses it on him and gets him bounced from the entire festival. If you don’t immediately want to start cheering for her in that moment, you’re not human. The director said she wanted it cut out and I’m glad it didn’t get cut because that was PURE entertainment and suuuuch a SAVAGE Paris moment.
American Murder – Netflix
Nobody loves a deep dive into a murder more than me, but this one just hit different. I felt very icky after watching it and it took me several moments to craft a tweet to sum up why. What it really came down to for me was the fact that not only was this a very recent murder so I was involved in the story from when it broke and not just learning about it through this doc, but it was a murder of 2 children and a pregnant wife. I feel like I can’t remember any other murder that I’ve read/heard about that includes children. And not only that, but this documentary included LOTS of footage of the children and the wife. It turns out Shanann (a name I will NEVER be able to pronounce, it’s Shannon or bust) fancied herself somewhat of an internet influencer. They had an overwhelming amount of videos from her Facebook page just updating her “followers” on her kids and her husband and things she was going through, some of them were very personal about her health or serving as inspirational messages for people who might be watching. She seemed to be the type of person who filmed and/or took pictures of everything. Which is EXACTLY the type of person I would roll my eyes at and block on Facebook, but now, seeing it on a documentary about her untimely death, it just seemed sad and eerie. There were many videos of the kids and their dad, showing them playing together or just being a normal family. Her pregnancy announcement was filmed. And I think it was just especially jarring in the age of social media to have all of this now included in true crime docs. I’m so used to reenactments and old-ass interrogation tapes. This is very much a modern doc, right down to using the police chest cam footage from the days after Shanann and the kids go missing. And don’t get me wrong, I HATE docs that are just talking heads and no action, so I really loved the fact that they incorporated all of this video footage and even personal texts that she had sent leading up to the murder. And yet it’s a catch-22 because Chris Watts is the SCUM of the earth and it just painted a clearer picture of the fact that Shanann and her children were murdered in the most disgusting way, FOR ABSOLUTELY no reason. So now that I’ve ranted about it giving me the uncomfies, let’s talk about the rest. The BIGGEST takeaway that I had from this doc, was the blonde polygraph chick who was RUTHLESS and I LOVED it…for about 5 mins and then immediately after she was done being a sassy B she suggested to Chris that maybe Shanann killed the kids and that’s the story he went with for several months, blaming the murder of his children on his innocent wife until he finally set the story straight. It was a quick high to low situation, I loved the fact that she was calling him out for being a MORON to take a polygraph when he’s clearly lying, but then she enabled him by giving him a story that there’s NO CHANCE he would’ve come up with on his own, and then rubbed his back for “confessing.” I mean this is the guy who pulled his truck into the garage to put his wife’s body in it KNOWING his neighbor camera-stalks the street. That neighbor deserves a badge of honor btw for knowing Chris was a murderer IMMEDIATELY. Regardless, we’re dealing with a real dummy here and this “interrogation” had some Brad Dassey vibes to it and I’m surprised Chris Watts didn’t ask if he’d be out of jail in time for Wrestlemania after confessing to the murder.
Class Action Park – HBO
I’ve heard about Action Park for years and knew that Johnny Knoxville was in a movie about it yet felt like that was more a boy movie than something I’d be super interested in. Then people started buzzing (specifically my favorite cousin who constantly tells me I’m funny so obviously I trust her opinion the most) about this new doc and you KNOW I have FOMO, so I decided to watch. And yes, Action Park was NUTZ. Just the cannonball loop alone was a covered slide with a loop in it. It looked like someone drew it and then just slapped some materials together to make it, as if the park was a hamster cage and not meant for human beings. The “mastermind” behind Action Park, Gene Mulvihill would give employees cash for testing out the rides. At one point they noticed people coming out with scratches and when they opened the slide up to see what was going on, previous riders TEETH were stuck in the padding and injuring other kids. WOOF TIMES A BILLION. And this was pretty much the case for each ride they described. They had Tarzan rope swings, cliff dives, slides that dropped 50 feet, and motorboats that you could booze up and ride. Basically this place was a walking lawsuit and everyone who went got injured and even a couple died. My personal favorite, the wave pool known as the “grave pool” where they used fresh water and noted that the human sludge and constant waves made it hard to spot if someone was drowning. When a person died in the wave pool, they cleared out the body and let everyone back in to keep body surfing/potentially also dying. These are all the fun facts I learned by watching this doc, but it was also one of those movies that never ended. I checked my phone several times because it felt like it was hours long and I definitely started to nod off. It was like they wanted to show how badass this place was but then felt the moral obligation to include heartfelt remarks from a family whose teenager died there. It was a real moral crossroads for me because at one point I’m laughing hysterically about how Action Park is SO Jersey it hurts and shouting CLASSIC to someone who drove a motorboat up onto a dock over another human being and walked away… and then a second later I feel like a dirtbag for laughing because this family who lost their child is traumatized and thinks Gene is a total money-grubbing heartless dirtbag. Real waterslide of emotions, pun intended.
Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich – Netflix
Again, I may be one of the last people to know what the deal is with Jeffrey Epstein but this doc was a great peek into that world. Sometimes I find that watching a well-made flick about a hot topic that is most definitely a little bit political, is better than learning about it from your Great Uncle on Facebook. This was 4 hour-long episodes and honestly the same message could’ve been delivered in 2 episodes or a feature film. This is one of my favorite things to critique about docs as most of them are THE MOST drawn out for no reason. Unless you have LOADS of compelling footage to show, most of the time you’re interviewing the same people and showing the same 4 photos or clips and that gets old REAL quick. I will also add that this was heavily for the victims and therefore they were really trying to tug at your heartstrings with their personal accounts and the justice they were seeking. Jeffrey Epstein was a very wealthy and well-connected pedo and he used his privilege to get away with it for several years even when the evidence was stacked against him. And his right-hand gal Ghislaine (pronounced in the DOUCHIEST french accent “ghee-lane” or if you’re my dad and have the maturity of a 14 year old, “Jizz-lane.”) who was FINALLY tracked down and arrested recently essentially groomed girls to be raped by Jeffrey and also deserves to rot in prison. If you’re anything like me, you’ll watch this and then immediately dive into the wormhole of conspiracy theories right down to Wayfair trafficking children disguised as expensive cabinets. If this doc taught me anything, it’s that without a doubt there’s a pedo ring in politics and Hollywood and I can’t wait for the day that shit’s blown wide open and these pervs are outed. Also, it taught me that Prince Andrew has a physical condition that prevents him from sweating. LOLOLOLOLOL.
McMillion$ – HBO
I came late to the party for this one, people were telling me to watch it back in February but I’m cheap and didn’t get HBO until recently when I got a free trial JUST to watch I’ll Be Gone in the Dark and then when said free trial expired, I waited until they sent me a cheaper monthly price before I committed again (to obviously cancel when they raise the price after a year.) That’s how you play the game, folks. Anyway, this one covers the classic McDonalds Monopoly game that ran for a decade and it turns out it was completely rigged. I had no previous information about this case so the story was a real rollercoaster. Doug Mathews was the rookie special agent who first pursued this case and he is ELECTRIC on camera. Honestly if it weren’t for Doug I might’ve shut the doc off after episode 1 because it was a bit of a slow start. And thank God I didn’t shut it off because it was one of my fave doc-series. The creatures that were in this criminal Monopoly ring were the type of people that I couldn’t tear my eyes away from. Robin Colombo in particular. I cherished every time she graced the screen with her Kool Aid red hair, 16,000 wrinkles and constant ciggy hanging out of her mouth. I’m honestly not sure what’s more offensive, the cast of characters that won millions of dollars from McDonald’s illegally or the fact that these morons got away with it for SO long. In fact, had there not been an informant, there would still be schmucks buying winning Monopoly tickets like it’s an underground betting ring and not a fast food chain promotional contest.
Fear City – Netflix
This is for all my fellow I-talians out there. My dad and I watched this one together in our matching wife-beaters and gold cross chains while we ate sauce and called everyone mamalukes. Just kidding, sort of. Fear City dives into the height of the NYC mafia in the 70’s and 80’s and how a bunch of baby-faced agents took them down. I love a good mafia/mob movie and the best part about this one was that it was real life. The five families were quite literally running the entire city at that time, making money off of the construction of every new skyscraper that was going up, in addition to having their hands in every other revenue-generating business right down to the gas you put in your car. In just three episodes (my favorite kind of doc) you’ll get to see how the FBI managed to assign an agent to each family, bug their homes and build enough evidence to take them all down. The sting operations get my juices flowing (there was a great sting in the McMillions doc where they acted as a film crew Argo style) and watching the bug guy tell us how he put on a mustache and a jumpsuit and dropped by the head of a mafia family’s home to “fix his TV” in the 1970’s when technology literally did not exist was riveting stuff. There wasn’t AS much real time footage as I would’ve liked but again, it was short so it’s not like I was bored to tears.
I Love You, Now Die – HBO
Nothing excites me more than forming an opinion on a crime strictly from the very few headlines that I read. And that’s exactly what everyone did with this case, which is why I truly enjoyed this more balanced look into what might have happened. I guess this doc came out last year, but having just gotten access to HBO, I went a little apeshit last weekend consuming every recent doc they had and this just happened to be one of them and I wanted to recommend it and not just because it took place in Massachusetts and featured some PRIME Ben/Casey Affleck exaggerated movie accents. The case was a big deal a few years back because technically Conrad committed suicide but once they dove a little deeper into his relationship with his girlfriend Michelle, they found text messages from her encouraging him to do it and she was charged with his murder, which is a pretty controversial thing and a unique murder charge. The doc did a great job of covering the back and forth of if you can really charge someone for murder when they texted someone to do it–at the end of the day Michelle didn’t start that car and let it fill up with carbon monoxide to kill Conrad and it seemed like the judge was kind of torn on it too. What was made very clear though was the fact that both Conrad and Michelle were AWL sorts of F’ed up. They were both being treated for depression and on medication, Conrad had attempted suicide before, and the two of them lived in this kind of toxic fantasy world of dating via text and never actually seeing each other. So for anyone who saw Michelle in court with her jet black bushy brows, her bleach blonde hair and a REAL bitchy stank face and though ooooh this teeniebopper ho is guilty AF, I suggest you watch this and it might not be so black and white. I’m not saying you’re going to finish it and think she’s innocent like I did when I watched the Scott Peterson doc and spent every Christmas party bringing up the gruesome murder of Laci Peterson to everyone who got stuck talking to me in order to convince them of his innocence, but you might just see the case from all sides. And that’s really why we watch docs, right? To get a different perspective, learn some new tidbits, and then shove all of that down everyone else’s throats and act like you’re superior to them because you watched an educational movie that was 100% created with an agenda and also a bias. DOCS 4 LIFE.
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