Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich (Netflix)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: I needed a shower after this.

Quick synopsis: The story of Jeffrey Epstein and how he got away with seriously gross things and got murdered.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: Dude got murdered.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: Dude. Seriously. He got MUR-DURRRRRED.

My Take: I’m not a conspiracy theorist. I hate when people use some convoluted thought process to explain something which is much easier to attribute to straight incompetence and laziness.

That being said, there is a massive conspiracy around Jeffery Epstein, and he got murdered for it.

The documentary carefully chronicles how Epstein and his girlfriend, Ghislaine Maxwell (another piece of garbage), dragged unsuspecting young women into some very disgusting circumstances. The vast majority were minors at the time and were shopped around to rich clients.

What I appreciate about the documentary more than others is two things: First, they have women who were actual victims speaking about their experiences. They don’t hold back, and it is moving to hear it directly from them and how their lives were impacted. Second, a lot of famous names are thrown around, but it is very clear who is being accused and who is someone that was friends with Epstein. Epstein traveled in very rich circles and not everyone was a child molester.

A lot were, though. Looking at you, Prince Andrew.

Verdict: This is so gross. It’s a must watch. It’s done well and it will make you want to burn down the state of Florida. Yes, more so than usual.  

If You Liked This Try:

  • 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)

The Crown (Neflix, Seasons 1 and 2)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: Moving for the English, hilarious for Americans.

Quick synopsis: The story of Elizabeth II coming to power.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: It’s Downton Abbey, only real.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: Elizabeth II is kind of a dim bulb. See below.

My Take: This is a very classy show that does not skimp on great acting, sets, or even having some fun at royalty’s expense.

The show starts with showing how Elizabeth II came to power after the death of her father. This show is expensive, and it looks it. All the actors are great, especially Matt Smith who plays a whiny man-child without being completely irredeemable.

I was more surprised by the way in which the show does not shy away from revealing some serious flaws in each of its characters. I won’t spoil too much, but the show will draw you in with some of the most mundane topics. And a quick google search shows a lot of these things are true or at least well reported rumors.

There are two things I find absolutely hilarious that I need to mention. First, I am a Catholic. As a Catholic, it is INSANELY FUNNY that English royalty was extremely concerned about people getting divorced. They considered it a scandal. This is what we call historical irony, people. Anglicanism was created for Henry VIII to get divorced! And don’t come at me with any of the other reasons. The egomaniac just wanted to shag Anne Boleyn. Full stop.

Second, as an American, this show is a weird dichotomy. You will be watching a very well written monologue delivered by a superb actor. Many of these speeches try to purvey the importance of kingship/queenship. And I LAUGH. I actually said to my TV, “This is why we kicked your asses out 250 years ago!”

I’m an ugly American. I’m okay with it. U-S-A! U-S-A!

Verdict: This is a really good show. If you have any interest in these people or the time period then you will be very happy.  

If You Liked This Try: *Note: Not all are historically accurate, but they are lots of fun. Some are ridiculously inaccurate (but enjoyable) trash.

  • Versailles
  • Vikings
  • Hatfields and McCoys
  • The Tudors

Hamilton

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: I am…. whelmed.

Quick synopsis: The biography of Alexander Hamilton in musical form.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: Yeah, Hamilton wanted to sex up his sister in law.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: The whole thing is more accurate than it isn’t.

My Take: I mean, it’s fine.

Let’s talk about the history since, you know, that’s what my website is about. It’s pretty good for a musical. It is based on Ron Chernow’s book (which is very good) and follows the flow and major broad strokes really well. There are a few anachronisms, Lafayette was not in the U.S. as early as portrayed, Hamilton meeting and getting in well with Washington was not as fast as it showed, etc. They were not so egregious to be worth pillorying the play over. Hamilton was not nearly as important militarily in the revolution as it seemed.

Now let me switch to “Theater Nerd” Brendan. (What gives me the right and credentials? I played Barnaby Tucker in The Matchmaker in high school. So, suck it.) The hype train went way too far down the tracks on this thing. It is not as good as the sum of its parts. Almost all the actors are fantastic with the exception of Lin-Manuel Miranda (LMM from here on out) who is out of his league. No, I couldn’t do better and that’s also besides the point. His writing is quite good, and this truly is an interesting art piece. The problem is that it is a spectacle and not a moving piece of art. It is interesting, but not transcendent. LMM did something very interesting. It is new.

When I started to watch it, I thought back to the plays I have seen on Broadway. When they are good, you forget you are watching a play and time flies by. To me, the pinnacle is Les Miserables. The most macho idiot you can find will sit through it without realizing how long it is. Each song seems carefully crafted to drag an emotion out of you and does just that. I paused Hamilton multiple times and kept checking how much longer I needed to go. Oh, also WHY IS THE SAME ACTOR PLAYING ONE OF THE BEST PEOPLE EVER AND ONE OF THE WORST PEOPLE EVER?! WHY?! And for those of you who told me to watch this and didn’t warn me, WE ARE IN A FIGHT.

King George III was hilarious.

Ultimately, I’m not going to be singing about throwing away my shot. You can bet your ass I can break out into, “Master of the House,” right now.

Verdict: It’s fine. Don’t listen to the hype beforehand and you’ll probably enjoy it.  

If You Liked This Then You Must Watch:

  • Les Miserables

The Innocence Files (Netflix)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: Don’t worry about leaving teeth marks at a murder. You’re all good.

Quick synopsis: A look at various cases where someone was exonerated by the Innocence Foundation.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: Teeth mark impressions are extremely unreliable. You can basically only eliminate someone and not identify someone. Bite away.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: Lineups are even worse. It is somewhat well known that eyewitness accounts are notoriously unreliable. However, when not run properly, massive miscarriages of justice happen.

My Take: Well, this is certainly distressing.

The show takes you through very specific cases where the convicted person was innocent and shows step by step what was needed to get them out. There is usually a theme where some piece of evidence is shown to be flawed or intentionally falsified.

Among the major things the series takes umbrage with police lineups, bite marks, and prosecutorial immunity. The case they make for each is very convincing. The people they show who are exonerated are clearly innocent and seeing their lives after lockup is pretty depressing for the most part.

The show is tilted very one sided as you may imagine. One person interviewed literally says, “I would tear down the entire justice system.” While there are major issues, to suggest everything about the justice system is wrong is ridiculous. It is called The Innocence Files so it’s not like it’s being coy about it’s slant.

Verdict: A really interesting series which highlights some major problems in the justice system. It is one sided in parts, but not enough to make it unwatchable.   

If You Liked This Try:

  • Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez
  • Tiger King
  • The Confession Killer
  • Abducted in Plain Sight

Washington (History Channel)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: Eh, it’s fine.

Quick synopsis: The life of George Washington, mostly focused on his British and American military careers and the presidency.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: George Washington’s teeth were not made of wood. They were made of ivory and other people’s teeth (slaves mostly).

Fun Fact for History Nerds: Thomas Paine was a jerk. He was constantly complaining about everything and everyone including saying Washington had no integrity by the time he left the presidency. To say those words aged badly would be an understatement.

My Take: I mean, this is fine.

The miniseries is part reenactment and part talking heads. You have very famous historians talking about the major events in Washington’s life interspersed with actors playing out those events. My major problem with this arrangement is that the historians get to narrate these powerful anecdotes while the actors usually get very dense and overwrought dialogue right after. Since you are shortening the time you have for the reenactments then they come off very simple to the point of uselessness. The visuals can be striking but it doesn’t make up for how clunky it all feels.

If you read Ron Chernow’s book, then you will get way more than this miniseries will give you and will get a much better understanding of Washington and everyone else in his life. This seems like a severe distillation. If you are unfamiliar with all of this then it will be fine. Otherwise, eh.

Verdict: If you don’t know Washington all that well then it will be enlightening. If you read anything on him then there isn’t much here for you. Go to Mount Vernon instead.  

If You Liked This Try:

  • Chernobyl (HBO)
  • Saints & Strangers (NATGEO)
  • John Adams (HBO)
  • Grant (History Channel)

Grant (History Channel)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: I’m a big fan too, but this borders on hero worship.

Quick synopsis: The life of Ulysses S. Grant, mostly focused on his Civil War exploits.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: Grant was actually gifted a slave by his in-laws. When he was nearly broke (which was constantly), he actually manumitted his slave, William Jones, without any payments changing hands.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: Ulysses S. Grant was not his name. It was Ulysses H. Grant. A clerical mistake at West Point changed it. When Grant pointed it out, he was told, in essence, “Well, you are now.”

My Take: I enjoyed this, but it leaves a lot out and simplifies way too much.

If you know the story of Ulysses S. Grant, then you know his entire life revolves around a few things.

First, he was a drunk. There are a lot of arguments over how much of a drunk he was and when, but there is no argument he had an alcohol problem. The show glosses over this way too much.

Second, his love for Julia (and vice versa) was amazingly important to him. Their relationship was extremely strong and romantic. Proof? Julia had a wandering eye (literally not figuratively). When it was suggested that a surgery could correct it, she set an appointment. Grant never tried to exert control over Julia and left her to make decisions herself. However, he did send a letter saying, “I don’t want to have your eyes fooled with. They are all right as they are. They look just as they did the very first time I ever saw them – the same eyes I looked into when I fell in love with you – the same eyes that looked up into mine and told me that my love was returned…” She cancelled her surgery. The show does not cover their relationship enough.

Third, Grant was an amazing general. The show nails this perfectly.

Fourth, Grant was a good intended president who is ultimately a failure because he trusted the wrong people. The show truly stumbles. It tries to flatter him entirely too much and not dig into what makes him lowly ranked as a president.

Verdict: It’s a good watch but feels very incomplete if you know Grant or the time period.  

If You Liked This Try:

  • Washington (History Channel)
  • Chernobyl (HBO)
  • Saints & Strangers (National Geographic)
  • John Adams (HBO)

Holy Hell (Netflix)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: Buddhafield is a dumb name for a cult.

Quick synopsis: A documentary about the Buddhafield cult which the filmmaker was in for 22 years.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: This cult still exists in Hawaii.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: This cult leader, Michel, had his people under control to the point that he made them build a ballet stage for him to put on shows only for the cult.

My Take: The most interesting aspect of this look into a cult is that you are taken through its evolution by someone who was in the cult but also filmed everything for over 22 years.

Will Allen was the documentarian of Buddhafield starting in the mid to late 1980s. Allen would ultimately stay in the cult for 22 years. He was deeply immersed including his family members being a part of it as well.

The cult leader, Michel, is very creepy as it seems all cult leaders are. He is strange, but he of course is somehow magnetic to the people who end up following him. Like most cults you see on documentaries, it starts off well with people feeling included and valued. However, sooner or later the cult leader begins to use people purely for their own devices. Michel is no different.

This documentary brings many former members in the front of the camera and adds a lot to the old footage. I really enjoyed it.

Verdict: This is a personal film for the creator and can be pretty powerful at certain parts. It does not have the shock value of some other true crime documentaries but it’s very good all the same. 

If You Liked This Try:

  • Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez
  • Tiger King
  • The Confession Killer
  • Fyre
  • The Inventor
  • Abducted in Plain Sight

The Confession Killer (Netflix)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: If you can’t trust a murderer, who can you trust?

Quick synopsis: An investigation into the confessions of Henry Lee Lucas, who confessed to over 100 murders.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: Lucas told a Japanese documentary director that he may have killed people in Japan. When asked how he got there, he said, “I drove.”

Fun Fact for History Nerds: Any self-respecting law enforcement officer will be horrified about the conditions Lucas lived in while confessing. He was given special privileges, field trips to confess, and even called the officers around him his “friends.”

My Take: Who would admit to a crime they didn’t commit? Henry Lee Lucas, apparently.

Some things are irrefutable. He murdered his mother and even he admits that. After that, it all gets a little more confusing. Lucas most likely killed his girlfriend and his employer. He took authorities to the bodies and it seems pretty clear he did it.

In custody, he suddenly started confessing to a lot of other murders. He confessed to so many that a task force was created solely to identify his victims. This is where the documentary truly takes off as you can see these wheels moving and immediately it seems too good to be true. It is.

Once these confessions start coming under fire, then you start to see law enforcement turning on itself. The whole thing takes on a life of its own and it’s a very interesting watch.

Verdict: It is very infuriating but a very interesting phycological look at cohesion and the mind of someone desperate to please. 

If You Liked This Try:

  • Chernobyl
  • Saints & Strangers
  • John Adams
  • Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez
  • Tiger King

The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley (HBO)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: I think I could lie my way to a billion dollars. Who’s with me?

Quick synopsis: A documentary focused on Elizabeth Holmes and her company Theranos. She became the youngest self-made female billionaire in history. She is also a fraud.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: Here is a partial list of the people swindled by Holmes: James Mattis, George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, Bill Frist, and Sam Nunn.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: Holmes even swindled Walgreens. She used the age-old strategy of “FOMO” (fear of missing out, for you old people who aren’t hip). She pushed hard and made the Walgreens executives afraid to lose out to CVS.

My Take: Elizabeth Holmes is an a-hole.

She grew up privileged, a bit shy, maybe bullied, and then went on to create one of the biggest scams American has ever seen. Along the way, she led a man to suicide, ruined countless lives financially, and threatened anyone who got in her way. She even lied about her dog being a wolf. The woman is unhinged.

Apparently, she was magnetic to be around. It is the only way to explain the inexplicable. Numerous men (yup, exclusively it seems) fall for her charms. These masters of industry and politics fell for some of the simplest tricks in the book. Refusing to show the inside of her machine, adjourning tests for lunch and magically having the results afterward and hiding behind trade secrets.

This is just the high-level details. There is much more. The documentary is good but see my verdict for the best way to learn about Theranos. Ultimately, the documentary did not leave me as outraged as the book did. And make no mistake, you should be outraged.

Verdict: This is a good documentary for someone who knows nothing about the subject. However, Bad Blood the book is more comprehensive and gives the reader a much clearer pictures of the damage this woman and her associates did. 

If You Liked This Try:

  • The Confession Killer
  • Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez
  • Tiger King

Fyre (Netflix)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: This made me hate Instagram more than I already did. Yes, get off my lawn.

Quick synopsis: Documentary on the Fyre festival. It was supposed to be a concert on a Caribbean island which would last for days. It turned into a legitimate nightmare.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: Oh, you are going to like all of this my non-history nerd friends. History lover or not, everyone loves a train wreck. This qualifies.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: We want to believe that we, as a society, have become smarter. That we can spot charlatans a mile away because of the infusion of knowledge into the world via the internet. NOPE!

My Take: Let’s get straight to the point. The villain in this mess is a guy who sold a massive amount of tickets to his event called the Fyre festival. People would fly down to an abandoned Caribbean island where there would be bands and events for days. Basically, take Lollapalooza, move it to the Caribbean, and make everyone live there.

There was one problem. None of it was actually set up. This is a story of someone who absolutely mastered marketing and especially how to use “influencers.”

The documentary doesn’t totally throw everyone under the bus. Ultimately, the real sin in the story was not knowing when to pull the plug and also proper planning. Don’t let that explanation fool you, though. There is a ton of craziness and this is well worth the watch.

Verdict: This is a must watch. (Disclosure: Never saw the Hulu documentary on the same topic so I can’t compare.) 

If You Liked This Try:

  • Abducted in Plain Sight
  • Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez
  • Tiger King