More Than Miyagi (Amazon)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: He was in a lot more than you remember!

Quick synopsis: The life of actor and comedian Noriyuki “Pat” Morita.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: Morita actually had a disease which was supposed to render him unable to walk, but an experimental surgery healed him.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: When he left the hospital after being healed, he headed right for an internment camp.

My Take: Sometimes, documentaries are created because some crazed fans believe someone’s life was way more interesting than people assume. I can confirm that this is not one of those documentaries. This needed to be filmed.

Pat Morita is mostly known as Mr. Miyagi and for good reason. He was the best. But it is so easy to forget, like I did, that he was also in Happy Days, Sanford and Son, and even the original Mulan.

Morita’s life was very interesting, and he seemed to be a genuinely good person who was also a raging alcoholic. His humor was a way to deal with pain and awkward situations. Such as when one of his first stand up gigs was for Pearl Harbor survivors. His first joke, “Sorry about your harbor.” They laughed.

This is very worth watching.

Also, there is further confirmation that Henry Winkler is the nicest human being on earth. It is not up for debate.

Verdict: This was a really enjoyable watch. Put it on your list.

If You Liked This Try:

  • Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story
  • The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley
  • Class Action Park

Night Stalker (Netflix)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: How do you get 19 death sentences and then not get put to death? Oh, California.

Quick synopsis: A documentary on Richard Ramirez, also known as the Night Stalker, who killed 13 people in California.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: A woman married Ramirez after he was convicted. She left him when she found out he was a pedophile BECAUSE APPARENTLY THE 13 MURDERS WERE NOT A DEAL BREAKER.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: During the trial, one of the jurors was found dead in her apartment. Everyone was terrified but it turns out it was just her boyfriend who killed her and then committed suicide. Holy hell.

My Take: True crime is murder porn. Let’s just be honest with ourselves here. Very often, the murderer is the main focus for obvious reasons and the victims get very little screen time (with the exception of the very well-done American Murder).

Night Stalker goes a bit differently. The people with the most screen time are two detectives who helped track down the Night Stalker. Also, the victims’ families are given more time than usual to tell their side of the story to the cameras. Ultimately, this is still true crime, but with what seems like a lot more effort put towards telling the whole story.

You know, until they track down the apparently foul-smelling killer who women immediately fell in love with because let’s not forget that society has always been a mess.

There are some very explicit crime scene photos which are being complained about on the interwebs. I don’t think they are much worse than anything you may see on IDHD, but if you are new to the genre…..don’t eat anything while watching.

Verdict: If true crime is your thing, it’s a must watch.

If You Liked This Try:

  • Mommy Dead and Dearest (HBO Max)
  • American Murder: The Family Next Door (Netflix)
  • Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich (Netflix)
  • Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez (Netflix)
  • Abducted in Plain Sight (Netflix)

I Love You, Now Die (HBO Max)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: I’m already afraid of my daughter becoming a teenager one day and this documentary does not help at all.

Quick synopsis: The suicide of Conrad Roy and whether or not his girlfriend, Michelle Carter, was culpable.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: Teenagers are the worst.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: Seriously, they are the worst.

My Take: This is one of the rare documentaries where a high-profile case that everyone knew about is shown in a whole new light.

Conrad Roy killed himself in his car. Michelle Carter had badgered him into finally doing what he said he wanted to do which was commit suicide. She’s the devil and everyone wanted her punished, but is telling someone to commit suicide actually a crime? That’s the story.

Except it was not the whole story. Conrad Roy was not merely a sad kid who ended up killing himself because Michelle Carter said to. Michelle and Conrad’s relationship was anything but a one way street of awfulness. Roy had tried to kill himself before. Michelle had tried to discourage it before.

One of the most uncomfortable I have ever been watching a documentary is during Carter’s trial where Michelle’s classmates are called to testify. The state’s line of questioning was intended to show that Carter was desperate for attention. What becomes clear is that Carter was neither liked nor disliked. No one seemed to really care about her. They didn’t torture her or ignore her, but they did make sure not to spend time with her. It is a tough watch.

In the end, this case was much more complex than I originally thought. By the end, I’m not sure how I felt about any of it anymore.

Verdict: A must watch.

If You Liked This Try:

  • Mommy Dead and Dearest (HBO Max)
  • American Murder: The Family Next Door (Netflix)
  • Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich (Netflix)
  • Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez (Netflix)
  • Holy Hell (Netflix)
  • Abducted in Plain Sight (Netflix)

Heaven’s Gate: Cult of Cults (HBO Max)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: A crazy cult came out of the 70s? Get out of town.

Quick synopsis: The rise and….rise? of the Heaven’s Gate cult.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: There are still 2 members walking around right now! The website is up to date!

Fun Fact for History Nerds: I remember this vividly but always thought the cult was relatively new. Nope, this thing started in 1974.

My Take: This is not your normal cult documentary.

Generally speaking, cults follow a very specific script. They start as a positive force in people’s lives. People join, do their part, and it all seems very wholesome. Then, there is usually some weird jump in logic where a few people decide to hit the bricks, but others don’t think it’s so bad. Fast forward and the cult leader says he/she is God, people lose all their money, and the weird sex stuff comes to light. Cue the FBI and drop the curtain.

Heaven’s Gate didn’t go that way. First, the leader, Marshall Applewhite didn’t live in splendor and have sex with anything that walked. He may have been a closeted gay man, but it didn’t factor much into the cult. And while you may say these people were brainwashed, it is really hard to see how they were. It wasn’t run like the cults where they try and destroy you when they leave. People were cut off when they did, but the viciousness associated with leaving a cult didn’t exist.

Then again…. they did all kill themselves. Yup, cult.

Verdict: This is not nearly as salacious as a lot of other cult documentaries, but if you like cults and a deep dive into them, this is pretty good.

If You Liked This Try:

  • Mommy Dead and Dearest (HBO Max)
  • I Love You, Now Die (HBO Max)
  • American Murder: The Family Next Door (Netflix)
  • Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich (Netflix)
  • Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez (Netflix)
  • Holy Hell (Netflix)
  • Abducted in Plain Sight (Netflix)

Baby God (HBO Max)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: You obviously have to be a psycho to want this many kids.

Quick synopsis: An investigation into Dr. Quincy Fortier, who for over 30 years used his own sperm to inseminate patients without their knowledge.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: The current number of children with Fortier’s DNA is at 24 and rising as of December 2020.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: In the early days of artificial insemination, doctors were a main source of sperm and donated often. In fact, doctors did not seem to care all that much whose sperm got used since DNA was not a thing yet.

My Take: I wanted to be more outraged. True crime is supposed to make you hate someone or something. Fortier was truly a loathsome person for a myriad of reasons, but it feels like the documentary doesn’t know that. It’s surprisingly sterile (I am so sorry; I could not resist).

I can’t articulate exactly why this story falls so flat. Fortier is a criminal and not just for what he did in his practice. However, while the documentary contains some very poignant moments with people who were hurt by him, they don’t hate him nearly as much as you may expect. Also, the documentary puts a few ideas out that it never fully investigates. I want my documentary to point out when things are open ended, but I also want it to hammer home something supported by fact. Baby God traffics in accusations too much to it’s own detriment.

Verdict: Everything listed below is better. Watch those.

If You Liked This Try:

  • Mommy Dead and Dearest (HBO Max)
  • I Love You, Now Die (HBO Max)
  • American Murder: The Family Next Door (Netflix)
  • Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich (Netflix)
  • Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez (Netflix)
  • Holy Hell (Netflix)
  • Abducted in Plain Sight (Netflix)

Mommy Dead and Dearest (HBO Max)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: Be ready to be creeped out for oh so many reasons.

Quick synopsis: The murder of Dee Dee Blanchard by her daughter, Gypsy Rose Blanchard and her boyfriend.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: 95% of Munchausen syndrome by proxy cases are by the mother of a child.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: The real name of Munchausen syndrome by proxy is actually factitious disorder imposed on another.

My Take: Prepare to feel sorry for a murderer!

Gypsy Rose Blanchard was sick her whole life. She was born prematurely, had brain damage, along with leukemia, asthma, and muscular dystrophy. She must just have terrible luck, right? Well, she did have bad luck but not the medical type. She has the misfortune of being the daughter of Dee Dee Blanchard who made everything about her daughter up. Gypsy didn’t have any of those conditions. Well, maybe asthma, but she was never allowed to leave the house so who knows.

Like all stories which go wrong, the problem began when Gypsy became a teenager (God help me in 7 years) and started getting more independent. Eventually, she met a guy online. I’d like to point out that he really tries to steal the title of creepiest person in this documentary and that is saying something. Dee Dee ends up dead and Gypsy and her boyfriend end up on trial.

This is an amazingly uncomfortable story. You feel sorry for Gypsy but she is interviewed at the end and it is unnerving. Dee Dee may have poisoned someone along with a lot of other issues and seems to be a severely mental ill woman (or just a scummy conwoman).

When it’s all over, call your mom and tell her you love her for not locking you up and making you think you can’t walk.

Verdict: A really unsettling documentary. It is very well done but don’t expect to feel anything resembling justice when it’s all over.

If You Liked This Try:

  • I Love You, Now Die (HBO Max)
  • American Murder: The Family Next Door (Netflix)
  • Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich (Netflix)
  • Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez (Netflix)
  • Holy Hell (Netflix)
  • Abducted in Plain Sight (Netflix)

Murder on Middle Beach (HBO)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: Come for the murder, stay for the amazing amounts of family drama.

Quick synopsis: A documentary by Madison Hamburg about the unsolved murder of his mother, Barbara Hamburg.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: Well, if you are the type of person who thinks police are either lazy and/or corrupt then you will thoroughly enjoy this.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: The episode on “gifting tables” will blow your mind as to how people do not realize or accept that the practice is a Ponzi scheme.

My Take: Barbara Hamburg was murdered in front of her house on March 3, 2010. From there, nothing else is all that clear.

Her son, Madison, becomes obsessed with figuring out who did it and begins to film a documentary around his efforts. He directly interviews many people associated with it (some directly and some clandestinely). There is a very clear sense of who you would bet on as the murderer, but Madison does not spare anyone in this documentary. Including himself, actually.

Madison is clearly not the murderer and you know that early on. However, I found myself as a certain point wondering how much of this was really to solve the murder and how much of it is Madison being an aspiring filmmaker with a story that will sell. When I felt myself questioning his motives, he did something most filmmakers won’t do. He calls himself out on it. I won’t spoil that any further.

I hate documentaries that do not have a clear ending. This does not uncover who did it. I loved it anyway. By far, one of the best true crime docs I have ever seen.

Verdict: If you like true crime, then you must watch this.  

If You Liked This Try:

  • Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich (Netflix)
  • Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez (Netflix)
  • Holy Hell (Netflix)
  • The Innocence Files (Netflix)
  • Abducted in Plain Sight (Netflix)

(Un)well (Netflix)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: If you can’t have the Tiger King, have some Sasha Cobra.

Quick synopsis: A TV series which looks at a different, ahem, medicinal alternative in each episode.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: I’ll just go ahead and list some of the alternative medical treatments in this series in order of sheer ridiculousness from low to high: bee venom, breast milk, tantric sex, and the old reliable of “No, it doesn’t cure cancer, you idiot” – essential oils.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: Young Living is a massive multi-level marketing scheme (yes, scheme). It used to be called Young Life, but they had to change it when they almost killed someone.

My Take: If you are coming down from the thrill of watching the nutjobs on Tiger King then I have your new binge!

(Un)well is a really interesting show because it really tries to see both sides of each subject it tackles. For instance, the first episode on essential oils follows a mother of an autistic child who uses essential oil scents to help her child sleep. That’s it. And it seems to work. She says it doesn’t cure anything, but it helps her family and Godspeed to them.

Then it cuts to an idiot saying orange extract (or something like that, I think I had an aneurysm as she talked) cured her brain cancer. The show won’t come straight out and say this is ridiculous, but it will follow up an idiot claim by putting on AN HONEST TO GOD DOCTOR, who will point out that no, it did not.

Each episode gives you someone you can relate to and then shows you how people will recklessly believe something dangerous is safe and does things that science says NOPE.

I won’t tell you anything about Sasha Cobra. Episode 2. You are welcome.

Verdict: If you care at all about health, shysters, or like crazy people then this is for you. 

If You Liked This Try:

  • The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley
  • High Score
  • The Tiger King

Challenger: The Final Flight (Netflix)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: Government bureaucracy led to a tragedy? You don’t say.

Quick synopsis: The story of NASA’s 1986 Challenger disaster.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: The disaster occurred because of large rubber O-rings. The morning of the launch, the manufacturer of the solid rocket booster needed to be browbeaten by NASA into supporting the launch.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: Christa McAuliffe, the teacher on the flight, was not the first non-NASA astronaut headed for space. A senator and congressman had been on previous flights.

My Take: It is one of the indelible events in recent American history. Before people said they knew exactly where they were during 9/11, they could tell you where they were when the Challenger happened. A media frenzy about sending “a normal person” into space meant most of the country was aware if not actively watching when the shuttle launch went horribly wrong.

Most people also know that the problem was a thin piece of rubber, called an O-ring, which failed to do its job and caused the explosion.

The documentary covers all of these things including bios of the shuttle crew outside of Christa McAuliffe. Additionally, we get to hear about the embarrassing attempts to cover up the real cause of the disaster which was rampant incompetence and arrogance. They are always a wonderful pair.

Verdict: This documentary is heartbreaking and covers a lot of ground. It may not contain a lot of new information for people who knew about it at the time but is great if you don’t know much about it.  

If You Liked This Try:

  • High Score (Netflix)
  • The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley (HBO)

American Murder: The Family Next Door (Netflix)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: For once, the neighbor knew it.

Quick synopsis: The murder of Shanann Watts and her daughters by Chris Watts.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: The next-door neighbor pretty much immediately knew Watts did it. It is one of the first things he eludes to when alone with police.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: Keeping the historical theme of the world being populated with terrible people, Shanann was initially blamed! Hooray humanity!

My Take: Something which is becoming more discussed in the true crime genre is that much of the focus is on the perpetrator rather than the victim. Case in point, everyone knows who Jack the Ripper is, but do you know who “The Five” are? (Read Hallie Rubenhold’s book if you don’t.)

American Murder does more than an admirable job of moving away from that narrative. It helps that Shanann was very active on social media. Additionally, using the text messages she sent to show the slow unraveling of her relationship with her husband is pretty powerful. Shanann is also not presented as some wronged wife put on a pedestal. Shanann is complex (like literally everyone) and is shown as such. Sometimes she comes off as controlling or hard-headed. Rather than turn off the viewer, it actually makes her more real.

As for the girls including Shanann’s unborn child? Well, I hope Chris enjoys Hell.

Verdict: This documentary is very well done and focuses away from Chris Watts as much as possible to make this much more Shanann-centric. It will also ruin your entire day.  

If You Liked This Try:

  • Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich (Netflix)
  • Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez (Netflix)
  • Holy Hell (Netflix)
  • The Innocence Files (Netflix)
  • The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley (HBO)
  • Abducted in Plain Sight (Netflix)