By Cady Drell published
I can’t always handle horror movies. Between the unexpected gore it'll sometimes throw at you—I'm looking at you, American Horror Story—and the jump-scares that exist solely to make you, you know, jump? No thanks. So when I want to feel a little freaked out, I watch true crime TV shows and documentaries. Sometimes they're gory, but in that archival footage/"based on a true story" way that’s a little less visceral (also, nothing jumps out at me). Plus, true crime TV forces me to confront the inherent darkness of the human condition, and the knowledge that those capable of the most heinous acts just walk among us without ever calling attention to the horrors of their mind. So, you know, win-win!
This decade has seen, and continues to see, a lot of spooky, riveting, can’t-believe-it’s-real true crime shows—both documentary and dramatization. Here's a list of the best so far—the ones we're obsessed with, and the ones we can’t wait to check out. (CW: murder, suicide, assault, sexual assault, child abuse).
American Crime Story: People vs. OJ (FX/Netflix)
What's It About? If you grew up in the '90s, you'll remember the insane murder trial against a pro footballer for killing his wife and another man, but it's worth watching this riveting miniseries to remember what actually happened. It's a cliché, but in this case truth really is stranger than fiction.
Des (Amazon Prime)
What's It About? If you're looking for a dramatization of a real-life murderer, David Tennant is deeply bone-chilling as Dennis Nilsen. The Scottish serial killer preyed on men and boys in '70-80s London, and Tennant nails the almost blasé attitude Nilsen had when finally caught.
The Jinx (HBO)
What's It About? This kicked off a renaissance of well-researched, riveting true crime: Robert Durst has been accused of three murders, and speaks to producers directly about his take on what happened. This one also has an epic reveal at the end you won't see coming.
What's It About? In theory, this shouldn't be as compelling as it is: 1970s FBI agents are tasked with interviewing and profiling serial killers for the first time. But in the hands of David Fincher, it's compelling TV, watching the most prolific killers of all time—Manson, Speck, you name it—talk about why they did what they did.
Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez (Netflix)
What's It About? The three-part docuseries tracks the rise, fall, and eventual death by suicide of NFL football player Aaron Hernandez after he was sentenced to life in prison following his conviction for the 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd.
Ted Bundy: Falling for a Killer (Amazon Prime)
What's It About: In this docuseries, Ted Bundy's long-time girlfriend, Elizabeth Kendall, her daughter, Molly, and other survivors break their silence about the infamous serial killer for the first time.
The Pharmacist (Netflix)
What's It About? Louisiana pharmacist Dan Schneider's quest to find his son's killer, which ultimately sets him on a fight against a "pill mill" doctor contributing to the opiate crisis in his town.
Interrogation (CBS All Access)
What’s It About? It's based on a crime that spanned 30 years, in which a young man is suspected of murdering his mother. Each episode involves an interrogation taken from actual case files, which means that the viewer understands more about the case each time—you become the detective. Peter Sarsgaard, David Strathairn, and Vincent D’Onofrio all star.
American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace (FX/Netflix)
What's It About? Season 2 of the acclaimed series centered around the divergent lives of fashion designer Gianni Versace and his killer Andrew Cunanan, delving backwards towards their origin stories and forwards towards that fateful, cataclysmic meeting.
Who Killed Malcolm X? (Netflix)
What's It About? The docuseries focuses on Abdur-Rahman Muhammad, a historian who has dedicated more than 30 years to investigating the assassination of Malcolm X.
The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez (Netflix)
What's It About? The six-part miniseries details the 2013 abuse and eventual murder of Gabriel Fernandez, an eight-year-old boy from Palmdale, California.
Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness (Netflix)
What's It About? Joe Exotic, the eccentric owner of the G.W. Zoo in Oklahoma, who courted controversy for years thanks to his breeding and treatment of the big cats in his care. His high-profile rivalry with Big Cat Rescue CEO and advocate Carole Baskin eventually escalated to the point that Exotic was convicted in a federal murder-for-hire case for allegedly hiring a hitman to kill Baskin.
How to Fix a Drug Scandal (Netflix)
What's It About? The docuseries focuses on crime drug lab chemists Sonja Farak and Annie Dookhan, who tampered with evidence, leading to tens of thousands of drug counts being dismissed.
Atlanta's Missing and Murdered: The Lost Children (HBO)
What's It About? This docuseries attempts to makes sense of an unsolved case involving the killings of more than 30 Black children from 1079 to 1981 in Atlanta.
The Innocence Files (Netflix)
What's It About? Based on the work of the Innocence Project, each episode of this series focuses on a different wrongful conviction case.
Trial by Media (Netflix)
What's It About? Each episode of the series covers a famous court case and dissects how media coverage impacted the outcome of the case.
Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich (Netflix)
What's It About? Based on the 2016 book of the same name by James Patterson, the four-part series tells the stories of Epstein's survivors and sheds light on how he used his power and influence to commit his crimes.
Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story (USA)
What's It About? Dirty John became an anthology series in 2020 with a second season focused on the story of Betty Broderick, a woman who was convicted of murdering her ex-husband and his second wife in 1989.
I'll Be Gone in the Dark (HBO)
What's It About? True crime writer Michelle McNamara's quest to uncover the identity of the Golden State Killer.
Unsolved Mysteries (Netflix)
What’s It About? The beloved and strange TV show of the '80s, '90s, and 2000s is getting its very own Netflix reboot! The creators of the original show have signed on, and though we don’t know what kind of stories will be profiled in each episode—definitely crimes, maybe some ghosts—we have a feeling it’ll be as addictive as the original. Fun fact about Unsolved Mysteries: It actually solved a lot of mysteries!
Fear City: New York vs The Mafia (Netflix)
What's It About? The docuseries follows the FBI's investigation into and subsequent takedown of New York City's Five Families: the Gambino, Colombo, Bonanno, Lucchese, and Genovese crime families.
The Vow (HBO)
What's It About? The nine-part series digs deep into alleged sex cult NXIVM and its leader Keith Raniere.
I Am a Killer: Released (Netflix)
What's It About? The series follows 53-year-old Dale Wayne Sigler who was convicted of murder in 1991, as he adjusts to life outside of prison after being paroled.
Cady Drell is a writer, editor, researcher and pet enthusiast from Brooklyn.
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