Advertisement

20 True Crime Shows to Watch After Netflix’s Tiger King

Streaming services are loaded with miniseries guaranteed to shock, surprise, and scare

True Crime Docs
The Jinx, Tiger King, Ted Bundy Tapes
Advertisement
Advertisement

If, like me and the rest of the world, you’re holed up in self-quarantine with nothing but your wits, some cans of food, and a rapidly dwindling supply of toilet paper, you’ve been digging deep into the world of Netflix’s true crime miniseries Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness. With its Coen-esque bizarro world of big cats and even bigger personalities, it’s proven to be the balm we need in these crazy corona-tainted times. After all, if the world is going to get this crazy, we need something even crazier to shock and enthrall us: what better way to do that than to follow the exploits of narcissistic (alleged) murderer-for-hirer Joe Exotic and the myriad tiger-based sex cults in his orbit?

But, of course, true crime’s been an obsession for humankind long before the days of In Cold Blood and Serial; we’re voyeurs at heart, highly attuned to the sensational and outlandish. Streaming services are rife with multi-part miniseries about murder, mayhem, and madness, sordid tales of serial killers and corporate con men (and women) who engage in acts we couldn’t possibly imagine. For those who’ve just finished Tiger King and are jonesing for more moody true-crime miniseries, we’ve got you covered. We can’t promise any elaborate country music videos in these, but they should enthrall and horrify all the same.


Making a Murderer

Available on: Netflix

Facts of the Case: Arguably the catalyst for the true-crime documentary series on Netflix, this 2015 scorcher by Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos charts the long, complicated story of Steven Avery, a man accused of murder after already having spent two decades behind bars for a murder he didn’t commit. The series helped carve out so many of the stylistic hallmarks of true crime stories, from its ponderous drone shots of sleepy communities to its elegantly structured series of reveals that kept you moving from episode to episode. While the story of Steven Avery continues (and a less-effective 2018 follow-up spent more time on the impact of the show on the case than the case itself), it’s still Ground Zero for the modern age of true crime we’re now in — and Netflix’s position atop that pile.


The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst

Available on: HBO

Facts of the Case: While Making a Murderer was making waves on Netflix, another miniseries on HBO also shocked the nation — The Jinx follows eccentric real-estate heir millionaire Robert Durst, who’s attracted the attention of law enforcement officials in three different states for murdering several women over numerous decades. But as elegantly as Andrew Jarecki’s six-part documentary series lays out the facts of Durst’s case, it’s the final hour (and its final minutes) that really sealed the deal: a burp-laden confession over a hot mic in a bathroom, when Durst thinks he’s alone. It’s one of the most jaw-dropping moments of documentary filmmaking-as-investigative-journalism to date.


Wild Wild Country

Available on: Netflix

Facts of the Case: If your biggest takeaway from Tiger King was the sex-cult stuff more than the murder-for-hire stuff, you might want to revisit Netflix’s 2018 documentary series Wild Wild Country. Maclain and Chapman Way’s six-part series told the suitably-wild story of the Rajneeshpuram community, who set up shop right outside the sleepy town of Antelope, Oregon, and set off a tiny war between the deeply strange Rajnesshi cultists and the townsfolk of Antelope. More than just a sordid tale of drugs, cults, and government investigations, it’s a tale of cultural conflict and the surreal ecosystem of cult environments, with programming that can linger on long after your leader’s been exposed as a fraud.


The Staircase

Available on: Netflix

Facts of the Case: What’s unique about The Staircase is that it didn’t start out life on Netflix: the first several parts of this series are a 2004 French documentary that arguably laid the seeds for what we see now in this modern era of true crime. Michael Peterson, who went to prison for murdering his wife, Kathleen (found at the foot of their staircase, where he argues she simply fell), is a fascinating, complicated figure around which to base a show around, and its comprehensive look at his story is so all-encompassing that 15 years later, Netflix released it with three additional episodes detailing how the case was progressing. And even so, like the best true crime, you’ll still be left wondering what really happened that night.


The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez

Available on: Netflix

Facts of the Case: The abuse of a child is one of mankind’s most unthinkable crimes, so the opening minutes of The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez — detailing the murder of an eight-year-old boy, his body covered in cuts and burns and bruises — are particularly shocking even for someone desensitized to true crime. And it only gets more harrowing and unflinching from there: Brian Knappenberger’s documentary is exhaustive in its exploration of the ways innocence can be decimated by uncaring, monstrous parental figures. Moreso, it charts the ways the system is unable (or unwilling) to help kids like Gabriel who are facing this kind of horrible abuse. It’s not for the faint of heart, but in that intensity lies its incredible power.


Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez

Available on: Netflix

Facts of the Case: Former New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez’s 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd (and the subsequent realization that he may have killed two people before that) drives Geno McDermott’s three-episode series, one which that explores the pressures of fame and the impact (both literal and figurative) his football career may have played in the killings. Probing deep into Hernandez’s motivations, McDermott opens up possibilities ranging from familial grief to concussive brain trauma to closeted queerness. We’ll never truly know what was in Hernandez’s head that night, but Killer Inside at least uses that as a platform to break down the corrosive nature of modern celebrity, sports, and toxic masculinity.


Don’t F**k With Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer

Available on: Netflix

Facts of the Case: If you’re looking for more tales of animal abuse after Tiger King (but honestly, why would you, you monster?), you might want to check out this somewhat slept-on miniseries that finally puts you, the true-crime-obsessed Internet sleuth, in the role of the hero. After posting a video of himself killing two kittens in graphic detail, Luka Magnotta suddenly found himself the subject of focus for a group of Internet detectives, who continually tried to bring him to justice even as his crimes escalated (including the 2012 murder of college student Jun Lin). The details are wild and the crimes are grisly, but Don’t F**k With Cats also brings up the extent to which true-crime obsession might result in a feedback loop that self-professed online killers thrive on. In trying to solve murders, do we end up pushing them to do more?


Evil Genius

Available on: Netflix

Facts of the Case: Years after Ruben Fleischer turned the story into a tone-deaf comedy starring Jesse Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari (30 Minutes or Less), Evil Genius explores the maddening mysteries that surrounded the tale of Brian Wells, who in 2003 robbed a bank in Erie, Pennsylvania, only to be killed by a bomb that was attached to his neck. And somehow, that’s only the beginning of the story, as Trey Borzillieri’s cinematic investigation leads him into a web of co-conspirators, lies, and deceit that remains intriguingly nebulous.


The Case Against Adnan Syed

Available on: HBO

Facts of the Case: Serial cracked the true-crime podcast world wide open, but 2019’s The Case Against Adnan Syed offers a much-needed counterpoint to the Sarah Koenig investigation into the 1999 disappearance and murder of 18-year-old Hae Min Lee by ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed. Telling the story from Lee’s perspective is an intriguing way to add new wrinkles to the Syed case. But it also raises interesting questions about how true crime stories are framed and where our sympathies are engineered to lie. Serial raises interesting questions about Syed’s potential innocence, but The Case Against Adnan Syed reminds us that there are very strong arguments in the ‘pro’ column, too.


Wormwood

Available on: Netflix

Facts of the Case: Errol Morris is the master of true-crime documentaries (The Thin Blue Line practically wrote the stylistic rule book), so it’s pleasing to see him do a deep dive on Netflix that blurs the line between true-crime doc and reenactment. With a Peter-Sarsgaard led dramatization in his back pocket, Morris details Frank Olson’s death in 1953 and its possible connections to a government conspiracy called MKUltra, as filtered through his son’s investigation of his father’s death. The two halves of the story — Frank’s life and death, and his son’s detective work — meld seamlessly into a gripping mix of reality and fiction, befitting one of the genre’s greatest talents.

Click ahead for more true crime options for your survival queue…


McMillion$

Available on: HBO

Facts of the Case: We all knew in the back of our minds that the McDonald’s Monopoly game was just a marketing gimmick, and that we’d never see a dime of that grand-prize money. But as James Lee Hernandez and Brian Lazarte show us over the six episodes of HBO’s most recent high-concept true crime doc, the truth was even stranger. Instead, we get to see how the game was rigged by a group of mob-connected guys who worked for the security company for the marketing agency that ran the promotion, which gives us a droll look into the competing personalities and deeply absurd machinations behind one of the oddest grifts in American history.


Free Meek

Available on: Amazon Prime Video

Facts of the Case: Meek Mill’s journey from young, rising rap star to incarcerated felon and criminal justice advocate is the subject of Patrick Reardon’s five-part series, which is less down-and-dirty whodunit than it is a passionate plea for probation reform. Mill’s story is echoed in the lives of a lot of young, black men, trapped in the unfair, Kafkaesque iniquities of the criminal justice system; just as his star is rising, the quirks of a probation system fully unprepared to handle a case like his fairly keeps rearing their ugly head. The doc rarely veers into the outright conspiratorial, but instead lays out the facts of how young black men are disenfranchised in American life and builds a strong case for reform.


Unabomber: In His Own Words

Available on: Netflix

Facts of the Case: Ted Kaczynski’s manifesto infamously laid out the groundwork for his ideology, one which led him to kill three people and injure 23 others as the Unabomber over more than 17 years. But as Netflix’s four-part series Unabomber: In His Own Words lays out the man’s life and murderous philosophies, there’s a bit more beneath the surface than one might imagine. Mick Grogan illustrates Kaczynski’s life as a series of familiar benchmarks — abusive family, rejection by women, radicalization — while also contributing excerpts from a rare interview (the only one he ever gave) and a Harvard University experiment from the ’50s in which he participated, which the doc argues helped forge his sociopathy.


The Most Dangerous Animal of All

Available on: FX

Facts of the Case: What if your dad was the Zodiac Killer? And what if that was the only way you’d ever get to know him? FX’s four-part miniseries, based on the book by Gary Stewart, follows Stewart’s search for his biological father, who abandoned him as a baby. But more than a search for closure and identity, Stewart’s investigation becomes a quixotic quest for the most infamous killer in American history, which Ross M. Dinerstein and Kief Davidson turn into a glance at Stewart himself. It’s a powerful story about skepticism and hope, and a heart-breaking way to use true-crime to examine familial loss and one man’s existential grief. We know that Stewart’s dad can’t possibly be the Zodiac Killer — he’s not Ted Cruz, after all — but what that journey reveals about Stewart is riveting.


The Keepers

Available on: Netflix

Facts of the Case: Before The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez, Brian Knappenberger cut his teeth on this superb miniseries about the 1969 murder of Sister Catherine Cesnik in a sleepy Baltimore suburb and the way the murder rippled throughout Archbishop Keough High School and the surrounding neighborhood. Not only do we get a sympathetic portrait of a victim who had a tremendous impact on her community, but The Keepers also shines a light on religious hypocrisy and the abuses of power that reside therein.


Lorena

Available on: Amazon Prime Video

Facts of the Case: Lorena Bobbitt was a punchline for most of the ’90s — a woman scorned who cut off her abusive husband’s penis and threw it out the window of a moving car. But in the post-#MeToo world, it was high time to reexamine Bobbitt’s story, Joshua Rofé reminding us of the bitter truths of Bobbitt’s life and the way the media ran away with the more sensationalist parts of her story. Instead of a hysterical woman who went too far, we see a woman subjected to domestic abuse and marital rape, whose immigration status played a vital part in the media’s treatment of her. It’s a sobering overview of a tale we got far too many sick giggles from at the time, giving us a side of the story that got lost in all the tabloid sleaze that surrounded it.


The Murder of Laci Peterson

Available on: Hulu

Facts of the Case: The Scott Peterson case was one of the mid-aughts’ most sensational news stories, but The Murder of Laci Peterson posits a number of alternate theories as to what truly happened to Laci Peterson in 2002. Chief among them is that Scott Peterson was himself railroaded, pushed into a position of guilt by a police department eager to peg him for the murder. Whether you believe that or not, the results are intriguingly told, even as the show veers into sensationalism in its own right at times.


The Family

Available on: Netflix

Facts of the Case: Not all true crime shows are about murder; Netflix’s 2019 miniseries details the extent to which a mysterious religious organization known as the Fellowship has its claws into every aspect of American life and political power. Jesse Moss’ five episodes connect the Fellowship to a number of the world’s most brutal dictators and autocrats, from Muammar Qaddafi to (predictably) Donald Trump. In a world where conspiracy theories reign supreme, and various corners of the Internet are obsessed with Q or the Deep State, it’s this kind of theocratic capitalism that rings far more true.


The Confession Killer

Available on: Netflix

Facts of the Case: Here’s an intriguing premise for a true-crime show: what if the guy didn’t do it? That’s the lynchpin behind The Confession Killer, which recounts the story of Henry Lee Lucas, a man who confessed to dozens, if not hundreds, of crimes throughout the latter half of the 20th century. Here’s the kicker, though: no one actually bothered to check if he was telling the truth. Robert Kenner and Taki Oldham’s five-part series unveils the massive miscarriage of justice that came from combining one gullible, attention-starved man with a law enforcement system more concerned with closing cases than solving them … and the many killers they may have let run wild when they weren’t looking.


Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes

Available on: Netflix

Facts of the Case: Shortly before they released the Zac Efron-led biopic Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, Netflix put out a vastly superior four-part miniseries that does more to get us into the mind of a madman than both seasons of Mindhunter. Compiled from hours of interviews with the man himself, Conversations with a Killer gives us the most unfiltered, uncut exposure to Bundy’s motives, philosophies, and personality than ever before. Sure, it may feel a little voyeuristic, a little glorifying of a man who killed dozens of people. But in the world of true crime, that’s a bargain you have to strike if you want to watch almost any of it.

Advertisement