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)

The Last Blockbuster (Netflix)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: Netflix does a documentary about something it murdered.

Quick synopsis: The story of Blockbuster videos rise and fall.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: There actually is one left! In Bend, Oregon! (The twitter account is fake but so damn funny.)

Fun Fact for History Nerds: I never knew home videos were so expensive before Blockbuster came along. The documentary breaks down how Blockbuster changed the game by changing the finances of buying videos for rental.

My Take: Kids today will never understand it.

I remember begging my mother or brothers to take me to Blockbuster on a Friday night. I remember hoping what I actually wanted to rent was there. I also remember the anger when all those boxes on the shelf had nothing behind it. Anyone under the age of 30 probably had no idea what I am talking about and your life is worse for it, my friends.

The documentary covers the life and (almost complete) death of Blockbuster. Along the way, you find out how it got so big and then how some thing named Netflix took it down. Or did it? As usual, the truth usually has something to do with weird financial arrangements in the background.

We also get to spend some time in the actual last Blockbuster on earth. Oh, Oregon, never change.

Verdict: Perfect to watch on a Friday night while wearing a swatch and eating popcorn. 

If You Liked This Try:

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

Murder Among the Mormons (Netflix)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: If it seems too good to be true …

Quick synopsis: A documentary about some major finds related to the Mormon Church which change what they know to be true.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: Apparently you can test bombs in Utah, and no one will really notice.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: The director is a Mormon himself, which is helpful because it seems like a hit piece at times. Keep watching, though.

My Take: I am going to keep this short because I don’t want to ruin it for everyone.

New documents show up throwing the Mormon Church into a panic because these documents directly refute certain aspects of their faith.

Things happen and people are mysteriously targeted by a mad bomber.

If you don’t know the story already but love true crime, then the third episode changes what you have been seeing the whole time. You may even sniff out the twist ahead of time. It’s well done and very well paced.

Verdict: It is really good and if you don’t know anything about the story ahead of time, then it is even better.

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)
  • Night Stalker (Netflix)
  • The Ripper (Netflix)

Allen v. Farrow (HBO)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: This is so gross.

Quick synopsis: The story of Woody Allen and Mia Farrow’s relationship.

Fun Fact Non-History People Should Know Will Like: Woody Allen hired people to follow the detectives investigating the child molestation charges against him.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: Woody Allen films a movie a year or so. He’s also a disgusting human being.

My Take: I never liked Woody Allen anyway. I certainly don’t like him any more now.

I was still rather young when the whole Allen fiasco went down. It was an interesting moment when I watched this miniseries to realize that the media blitz Allen used to protect himself actually worked on me. From what I recall, it seemed like a very “he said/she said” scenario.

It was not.

If you think for a second Woody Allen was set up by a vindictive ex, then you need to watch this. It will change your mind with actual facts instead of a media blitz. More importantly, you hear directly from Dylan Farrow, whom he molested.

Let’s be serious here. His explanation starts with falling in love with Farrow’s adoptive daughter who he’s known since she was a teen.

Verdict: You have to have a strong stomach for this. It’s well done but oh man will it ruin your day.  

If You Liked This Try:

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

The Movies That Made Us: Season 1 (Netflix)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: 12-year-old Brendan was so psyched for this!

Quick synopsis: Mini-documentaries on some of your favorite movies…and Dirty Dancing (I kid, ladies).

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: Home Alone was nearly cancelled when it almost completely finished.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: Dan Aykroyd’s family is really into the occult and that’s how we got Ghostbusters.

My Take: I don’t care too much about movie making. I like to just see what gets put up on the screen and just enjoy the ride. I know some people want to see the artistry and the camera angles and what not, but I like to see stuff blow up without thinking too hard. Oh, and really fancy dramas…those too.

However, it was really hard not to love this series of documentaries. I even watched the Dirty Dancing one! No, I didn’t have the time of my life, shut up. It was good though.

These documentaries take you through the whole process of the four movies they cover. Literally, from who wrote it (and often rewrote it) all the way through to when people thought the movies would bomb. As you may guess, these movies are in this show because they didn’t.

These are more than just a nostalgia trip. Go ahead and watch.

Verdict: Go ahead. You’ll have a great time.

If You Liked This Try:

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

The Ripper (Netflix)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: Apparently, it’s not a big deal to murder prostitutes in England.

Quick synopsis: A documentary on Peter Sutcliffe, also known as the Yorkshire Ripper, who murdered at least 13 women.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: Sutcliffe was interviewed 9 times by the police but was only apprehended when he was caught with a hooker, phony license plates, and a kill kit nearby.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: Sutcliffe was able to murder 3 more women and attack 2 others after a man named John Humble sent hoax letters and a recording to police which sent them in the wrong direction.

My Take: It is hard to find a more bungled investigation than this one.

Peter Sutcliffe killed and attacked women over a period of five years from 1975-1980. Except, when the investigation was reviewed years later, he was on police radar as early as 1969. He was quiet and unassuming but was not invisible to law enforcement. However, he might as well have been with the way the police mucked it all up.

The series is good but does start to drag and then feels rather rushed at the end. It is 4 episodes long and Sutcliffe and the investigation fallout doesn’t appear until episode 4. There is a clear attempt by the documentary to highlight how badly misogyny was at the heart of the police incompetence. I was very unconvinced until I did my own research. As a history nerd, additional research can be very enlightening. However, if you bring something up in your documentary, and there is ample evidence to prove it, you need to do a much better job than this did.

If you love true crime, you will like this. It does a great job explaining and showing how much the Ripper out England in a constant state of fear when the sun went down. It is not the best out there, though.

Verdict: This series is good, but it does not seem to be complete and has an extremely rushed ending.

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)
  • Night Stalker (Netflix)