This is a Robbery (Netflix)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: Editor wanted.

Quick synopsis: The story of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum theft in 1990.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: This is the largest art heist in history.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: The thieves stole wisely when they poached a few Rembrandts, Degas, and a Vermeer. However, they skipped Michelangelo. Guess they weren’t Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fans.

My Take: My reaction to episodes 1 and 2 of this series: you got me hooked! Episodes 3 and 4: get it over with.

This series needed to be one episode shorter. It also has a problem with tone. Unlike Operation Odessa which firmly highlights the absolute hilarity of the criminals without glossing over their crimes, this series has a tone problem. I felt like sometimes it wanted to be darkly funny, but then the final couple episodes dive deeply into the sheer murderousness of the prime suspects. What started out as a bloodless art heist becomes a total bloodbath.

Ultimately, the final two episodes drag and if it were shortened to three total, then this would be a much better watch. It’s not bad, it’s just not nearly as good as it could have bee.

Verdict: This is one episode too long and really drags at the end. It’s worth a watch if nothing else is on.  

If You Liked This Try:

  • The Lady and the Dale (HBO)
  • Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich (Netflix)
  • The Tiger King (Netflix)
  • Class Action Park (HBO)
  • Murder Among the Mormons (Netflix)
  • The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley (HBO)

Crazy Not Insane (HBO)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: Irony: Naming your documentary how it makes the viewer feel.

Quick synopsis: A documentary about psychiatrist Dorothy Otnow Lewis. Or her theories. Or her thoughts on the death penalty. Honestly, I’m not sure what it was going for.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: Dissociative identity disorder (DID), or multiple personalities, is an actual diagnosis.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: Dr. Lewis thought David Bundy had DID. Probably not, though.

My Take: There is a much better documentary which can be made with the same material.

Dr. Lewis could make a compelling case about the fairness of the death penalty because of the very real evidence connecting brain injuries and crime. There is probably 15 minutes on this topic which could make you think.

Unfortunately, there’s over an hour of other stuff. It starts as a biography of Dr. Lewis, then a treatise on DID, then brain injury, back to the biography, and back and forth forever.

Ultimately, I asked myself before it was over, “what does this documentary want me to think about?” I still don’t have the answer.

There is also a complete lack of skepticism which is required for a good documentary. For me to believe Dr. Lewis, I need to hear all of the strongest arguments against her work and have them taken apart. You only hearing passing references to the criticism. In fact, Dr. Lewis at times seems a bit…out there. She basically loses it in a courtroom at one point and the documentary shrugs it off as, “Dorothy doesn’t think linearly, and you have to go with it.”

That’s basically how the documentary is. Oh wait, maybe that was the point.

Verdict: This is way too all over the place to be very good.

If You Liked This Try:

  • American Murder: The Family Next Door (Netflix)
  • Murder Among the Mormons (Netflix)
  • Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez (Netflix)
  • Abducted in Plain Sight (Netflix)
  • Night Stalker (Netflix)
  • Sasquatch (Hulu)

The Book Was Better: Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow vs. Catch and Kill: The Podcast Tapes (HBO)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: Movie producers are perverts? Who knew? Except literally everyone.

Quick synopsis: The story of how Ronan Farrow took down Harvey Weinstein.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: Ronan Farrow is also a lawyer and clearly an overachiever.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: Weinstein actually reached out to Woody Allen to try and have the story about Weinstein’s abuses quashed.

Book vs. Movie: I should admit that when the Weinstein story started to explode a few years ago, and I heard Ronan Farrow was behind it, I immediately thought this was one of those “nepotism gets someone on TV” situations.

The moral of the previous sentence is that I am an idiot.

I read the book first. Catch and Kill is truly amazing in multiple ways. First, Farrow is not where he is because of nepotism. He has done the work and he is good at it. He walks step-by-step through the investigation with diversions to such people like Matt Lauer who would have his own scandal. The book reads easily because you can actually feel that Farrow is not impressed with himself and focuses more on the victims.

What I also found refreshing is that Farrow is not afraid to make himself look bad. He remembers how much he failed his sister, he talks about how whiny he could be with his fiancée (who sounds hilarious, by the way), and that he thought about giving up multiple times. The book is fantastic. It won the Pulitzer Prize, and it should have.

The TV series is good, don’t get me wrong. However, it misses so much of what made the book a page turner. Be honest with yourself. If you won’t read the book, then fire up your HBO subscription (that you bought to watch Wonder Woman 1984, you can’t fool me) and watch it. The story is important and well told.

Verdict: The book is better, and a must read. If you won’t read it, then watch the series.

If You Liked This Try:

  • Adam Hochschild, King Leopold’s Ghost
  • Patrick Radden Keefe, Empire of Pain and Say Nothing
  • John Carreyrou, Bad Blood
  • Harry Markopolos, No One Would Listen
  • David Grann, Killers of the Flower Moon
  • Sheri Fink, Five Days at Memorial

Val (Amazon)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: The Iceman shows his softer side.

Quick synopsis: A video autobiography of actor Val Kilmer.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: Val Kilmer went to Julliard and is the youngest person ever accepted into their drama school.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: Kilmer didn’t want to be in Top Gun since he felt it glorified war.

My Take: Ever watch something which seems charming throughout but then it ends, and you aren’t sure how you felt about it? Yes, this is one of those.

Val is put together by Val Kilmer and is at times funny, tragic, bewildering, confusing, self-serving, and weird. Kilmer has lost his voice to throat cancer which necessitates his son doing some voice over.

The actor goes through his highs and lows while showing his current life making do without his voice. A lot of people may not realize Kilmer went to Julliard and that his first movies were pure comedies (where he was freaking hilarious). He married his costar from Willow (no, not Warwick Davis but that would be pretty cool). He got divorced, had some hard times, and now makes ends meet by doing autograph signings and appearances.

At the end, it just didn’t leave a mark. Ultimately, it feels like Kilmer lets himself off the hook for being kind of nightmare to work with at times which is well known. He has explanations at times but doesn’t seem to understand how he might rub people the wrong way. He has faced rough times and seems like a good person, but maybe just a bit of a weirdo.

Verdict: Eh. If nothing else is on.  

If You Liked This Try:

  • The Lady and the Dale (HBO)
  • Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich (Netflix)
  • The Tiger King (Netflix)
  • Class Action Park (HBO)
  • The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley (HBO)

Sophie: A Murder in West Cork (Netflix)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: Ireland is really beautiful. Yes, even with a murderer running around.

Quick synopsis: The murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier in West Cork.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: The first potato in Ireland was planted in Cork in 1588.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: Cobh, in Cork, was the last port of call for the Titanic.

My Take: I’ll be careful not to ruin the shock at the end of the first episode but it’s a doozy.

Sophie Toscan du Plantier was a French woman who owned a vacation house in West Cork, Ireland. One night, she is murdered, and people were shocked that a sleepy part of town could be the scene of a murder. The usual suspects were rounded up, but they all have alibis.

Then, the prime suspect comes out of nowhere. If you don’t know the case at all, it is a legitimate shock as to who it is.

The problem is, I wasn’t fully convinced by the end that he did it. There is a lot of circumstantial evidence and the suspect is clearly a weird person.

Ultimately, I had too many questions I wanted answered at the end. That is not a recipe for a great true crime doc, but it is still good. The ones listed below are better, but you won’t be disappointed if you add this to your list.

Verdict: It’s a good documentary but seems like it is missing information. Don’t expect to be fully convinced.

If You Liked This Try:

  • American Murder: The Family Next Door (Netflix)
  • Murder Among the Mormons (Netflix)
  • Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez (Netflix)
  • Abducted in Plain Sight (Netflix)
  • Night Stalker (Netflix)
  • Sasquatch (Hulu)

How to Become a Tyrant (Netflix)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: It really doesn’t seem too hard.

Quick synopsis: A look at how many tyrants have come to power and held on or fell.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: Peter Dinklage is the narrator. Yes, he is as effective as you would expect.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: Hitler outlawed smoking.

My Take: Dark, satirical humor is a very fine line. This series tries it and succeeds!

The series keeps from being too flippant about a serious subject by introducing the tyranny playbook. The main theme is that all of these supremely evil people followed a common set of rules to acquire power, use it, and then fall or continue to survive.

It is funny in a dark way without being insensitive to the fact that we are talking about some of the worst psychopaths in history like Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Mao Zedong, Muammar Gaddafi, Kim Il-sung, Idi Amin and Saddam Hussein. Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-Shek are not as well represented as they should be.

There are six episodes which talk about a couple of playbook tenets, focus on one tyrant, and sprinkle in facts about the others. They are short episodes and they are entertaining all the way through. I stumbled on it and was very happy I did.

Verdict: Have a few dark laughs, learn something. It’s a great watch. 

If You Liked This Try:

  • (Un)well (Netflix)
  • The Tiger King (Netflix)
  • Class Action Park (HBO)

Operation Odessa (TV)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: I’m mad my parents didn’t buy me a helicopter when Soviet Russia fell.

Quick synopsis: Three gangsters try to sell a nuclear submarine to a drug cartel. It’s so much more than that but honestly, it’s really hard to sum this up quickly.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: The federal agents have to stifle their laughter during their interviews for the documentary. That is all you need to know.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: Wait until you hear how much you could buy a nuclear submarine for back in the day!

My Take: A Russian mobster, a Miami playboy, and a Cuban spy walk into a bar. Actually, it was a car lot. It’s not really important. What is important is how absolutely insane this documentary gets in the first 15 minutes. And then it gets more insane. And more.

I don’t want to spoil too much. I’ll try and hint at the highlights. There are a lot of drugs and strippers. A lot of used Russian military vehicles. A lot of double crosses and a lot of people who really should have been killed by now.

It is Miami Vice only real and much funnier.

Verdict: This is bonkers. You are going to love it.

If You Liked This Try:

  • Class Action Park
  • Tiger King
  • Abducted in Plain Sight
  • Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story

Operation Varsity Blues (Netflix)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: Never trust a man who wears warmups too much.

Quick synopsis: The story of all those rich jerks who paid to have their kids fraudulently get into college.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: Aunt Becky from Full House went to jail because of this!

Fun Fact for History Nerds: Upwards of 50 people have been charged over this thing.

My Take: True crime doesn’t always need to be about murder.

It would be very hard not to have heard about this scandal, but in case you didn’t, a man named Rick Singer bribed, cajoled, and straight cheated to get a bunch of kids into colleges. What makes it amazing is how it is very involved, but at the same time also pretty simple. Rick Singer looked at a system and found out multiple ways to beat it.

The actual show is a mixture of documentary and reenactments. I know what you are thinking, reenactments are often horrible to watch. Fear not, they went all out and got Matthew Modine to play Rick Singer! (He has two children, I don’t know where they went to college. Just saying.) The reenactments are based on actual conversations which means fiction isn’t sneaking into this. You will be blown away by how stupid people can be with what they say on the phone.

Verdict: It’s worth a watch. Especially if you hate rich people. 

If You Liked This Try:

  • The Tiger King (Netflix)
  • Class Action Park (HBO)
  • Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich (Netflix)
  • Murder Among the Mormons (Netflix)
  • The Inventor: Out of Blood in Silicon Valley (HBO)

The Lady and the Dale (HBO)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: A three-wheeled car looks no less ridiculous than those three-wheel motorcycles.

Quick synopsis: The story of Elizabeth Carmichael and her three-wheeled car, the Dale.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: Liz Carmichael was born Jerry Dean Michael in 1927 in Indiana. Well, allegedly as she had no birth certificate.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: The Dale was on the Price is Right!

My Take: Say what you will, Elizabeth Carmichael was a very good saleswoman.

The problem with the rest of the show is that is tries to paint Carmichael as good at a lot of other things which do not hold up.

While her children talk about her being an amazing mom, they also talk about having to move in the middle of the night when people caught up to Elizabeth. It seems most of them have had very unhappy lives. Yes, Elizabeth fed them, loved them, but she also seemed to horribly scar them at the same time.

As per the intro, Elizabeth was also a trans woman. The show tries to intersperse her struggles with most trans people but only ever gives minor lip service to the fact she was a criminal in multiple ways and treated many people terribly.

The actual portion which focuses on the Dale and the events around Elizabeth’s rise are interesting, but all of the other plot-lines take it completely off track (pun intended!).

Verdict: This one is good but gets ruined by some misplaced hero worship.  

If You Liked This Try:

  • Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich (Netflix)
  • The Tiger King (Netflix)
  • Class Action Park (HBO)
  • Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich (Netflix)
  • Murder Among the Mormons (Netflix)
  • The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley (HBO)
  • Abducted in Plain Sight (Netflix)

Sasquatch (Hulu)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: It’s hard to remember what happened when you are super high.

Quick synopsis: A guy remembers hearing about a story of three men being murdered by a Sasquatch on a pot farm.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: Northern California has a lot of crazy people. I mean crazy in multiple ways.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: It’s still more profitable to sell weed on the black market instead of legally. No, I am not advocating it. I am just letting you know.

My Take: This documentary really had me going.

Long story short, investigative reporter David Holthouse is on a pot farm back in the 90s. While there, some guards come in talking about three men being torn to shreds by a Sasquatch. Yes, Bigfoot. Holthouse moves on with his life because he didn’t feel like being murdered that night and now he is trying to figure out what happened.

The first episode examines Bigfoot and Sasquatch with a seriousness that almost made me stop watching. I don’t believe in Bigfoot, or the Abominable Snowman, or the Loch Ness Monster (just kidding, Nessie is totally real). I thought this show was going to try and make me a believer.

I am happy I kept going. Holthouse does his investigation and it leads to where you would expect when you are talking about drugs and scary people. I also found it to be very fair to all sides of the argument. I found myself being annoyed that these pot farmers (who clearly point out they are committing crimes) are annoyed at law enforcement for doing their jobs. They start to spout off how they were harmless but then we get a look at all the weapons and booby traps they also had on their farms. It was hilarious.

What happens as the story unfolds? Well, most true crime docs hold very little suspense for me. This one did.

This is one of the best true crime docs I have watched. Take a look and don’t stop at episode one. Trust me.

Verdict: Very good documentary. Don’t only watch the first episode. Keep going.

If You Liked This Try:

  • American Murder: The Family Next Door (Netflix)
  • Murder Among the Mormons (Netflix)
  • Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez (Netflix)
  • Abducted in Plain Sight (Netflix)
  • Night Stalker (Netflix)