(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)

Home Game (Netflix)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: Sports are just like people, the weirder the better.

Quick synopsis: A TV series which identifies fun and weird sports from across the globe.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: Kyrgyzstan has a sport where the ball is a dead goat. Yes, you read that correctly.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: Florence has a sport that is part MMA, part rugby. It has been going on for 500 years.

My Take: This history nerd also loves sports. This show gives you some awesome ones you never heard of.

There are 8 episodes which go around the globe to find some pretty wild ones. The show also explains the origins of each of the sports which can go back hundreds of years. Even if you hate sports, there is some really interesting background information.

If you hate sports or can’t understand why some people would dedicate their lives and health to it then you probably won’t like it. If you do, and if you like weird stuff then you will enjoy the hell out of these.

Verdict: If you like sports at all then this is for you. 

If You Liked This Try:

  • (Un)well
  • High Score
  • The Tiger King

High Score (Netflix)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: One word – Nerdgasm.

Quick synopsis: A documentary which illuminates us all on how video games came to be.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: The aliens in Space Invaders are actually sea creatures set to pixilation. Go look. I’ll wait.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: Nintendo wasn’t a video game company originally. It was founded in 1889 to make playing cards.

My Take: (Squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee)

A lot of entertainment options nowadays try to bring you back to old time periods. I find most are very unsuccessful in this endeavor. They will lean too heavy into a time, like the 80s, and overwhelm you with too many details that assault your senses and ultimately end up seeming forced.

Then there is High Score. During the episodes, there will be a cut in between shots with pixilated graphics and I was transported every damn time. Whoever made this knew what 8-year-old me wanted to see and they delivered. There is a ton of information you never knew about behind the scenes.

The battle between Nintendo and Sega, the move to 3-D, multiplayer, and how arcades came and went are all covered. The show never spends to long on any one thing and adds a lot of interesting information along the way.

Please excuse me, I’m going to figure out how to go play The Legend of Zelda.

Verdict: I was transported back to playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on Nintendo. If you ever played video games, go watch this. 

If You Liked This Try:

  • The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley

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)