With Netflix's latest hit Tiger King, docuseries are once again in the headlines. The format, which has had revivals on and off on TV since the 1990s, has risen to prominence again with the popularity of Netflix. Though documentary films are still the more traditional format for real-life storytelling of this nature, the streaming format makes the ability to break them into chunks more appealing, allowing viewers to watch episode after episode again until the denouement. These suspenseful docuseries, all of which are currently streaming, are exactly the kind of show that will have you hitting "I'm Still Watching" late into the night.
When most people hear the word "docuseries," the first thing that leaps to mind is true crime. But that's not the only kind of story that can lend itself to this format. Docuseries range from deep dives into food, like David Chang's Ugly Delicious, or wellness, like Gwyneth Paltrow's The Goop Lab.
Some of the suggestions below are the more traditional twist and turn mysteries of the real world. But some of them are just plain fascinating dives into stories of the past or stories of the now. And they're all suspenseful, even if you know how it ends.
1. 'The Jinx'
One of the docuseries that kicked off the craze for the format in the last few years, HBO's The Jinx is the story of Robert Durst, scion of NY’s billionaire real estate family. He was accused of three murders over the past 30 years but never charged.
His sit down interview is a fascinating portrait of lifelong wealth and privilege, but it's the final moments of the last episode that makes it sing.
2. 'Five Came Back'
Based on the 2014 book of the same name, Five Came Back is a deep dive into five legendary American directors: John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, Frank Capra, and George Stevens. They were sent to the front lines to create films documenting and propagandizing World War II.
For any person who is interested in media, messages, film, or how stories of our history are made in real-time, and how it affects what comes next, it's a must-watch.
3. 'Last Chance U'
Described in the synopsis as "a gut-wrenching behind-the-scenes look at the world of college football," Last Chance U is a story of young men desperate to use the sport to better their circumstances, even as the sport uses them right back.
4. 'The Vietnam War'
Ken Burns is literally the best in the docuseries business. The Civil War, his first major documentary, is also amazing, but it's also very far in the past. The Vietnam War, on the other hand, has an immediacy and an urgency to it that will teach you modern history while also keep you up all night watching. (I'm not kidding. The series is 10 episodes, 17 hours, all told.)
5. 'The Keepers'
At first, The Keepers looks like your standard true-crime series, with the tagline "Who killed Sister Cathy?" serving as the show's full synopsis. But start watching, and it turns out to be so much more.
Sister Cathy Cesnik disappeared in 1969, and her students are convinced it wasn't an unsolved murder, but a full-blown cover-up. According to the documentary, Cesnik may have discovered the priests were part of a sexual abuse ring exploiting the students at the all-girls Archbishop Keough High School, decades before the Catholic Church abuse scandal finally came to light.
6. 'Formula 1: Drive to Survive'
Formula 1: Drive to Survive is one of the few docuseries where the subject worked directly with Netflix. Formula One and the streaming service co-produced this behind the scenes look at the world of racing. The documentary focuses on the 2018 and 2019 Formula One World Championships, but it will teach you about why this sport has such a passionate following. For those sport starved people out there, it's a great series.
7. 'Abducted in Plain Sight'
A true-crime docuseries with as many twists as Tiger King, Abducted in Plain Sight is the story of Jan Broberg, who was kidnapped by her family's best friend, Robert Berchtold. Twice.
You read that right. Twice. Truth really is stranger than fiction.