Tiger King (Netflix)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: It’s like white trash did a massive amount of meth and then had a baby. Then the baby did meth. 

Quick synopsis: Chronicles the ups and downs of owning tigers and running a zoo. I am so underplaying this whole thing. It’s so bonkers.  

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: She did it. You don’t know what this means as of yet, but I assure you that you will know what I am talking about as soon as you see it. 

Fun Fact for History Nerds: Joe Exotic won 19% of the vote in the Libertarian primary for Oklahoma Governor! We thought such things only happened in Florida. 

My Take: Joe Exotic owned a zoo. He had tigers. There are other people with tigers. All of these people are certifiably insane. 

One guy is definitely a cult leader with multiple wives. 

There is a woman who says she hates the other guys and wants to save the tigers. I assure you she is not the hero of this story. 

85% of the teeth in this documentary are missing. It’s a rough estimate. 

There is murder. Lots of murder. Also, a presidential campaign.  

I don’t want to ruin anything. Stop reading. Go watch. And don’t start late at night. You won’t be able to stop until you are done. 

Verdict: Just stick it in my veins! Glorious trash! 

If You Liked This Try:  

  • Abducted in Plain Sight 
  • Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez 
  • Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story 

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (Netflix)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: Age old story of a beautiful actress who gets bored and invents something. 

Quick synopsis: The life of Hedy Lamarr, actress, producer, and inventor it turns out. 

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: She sued because the name of the woman in Blazing Saddles was named Hedley Lamarr. Mel Brooks said, “she never got the joke.”  

Fun Fact for History Nerds: Hedy was friends with Howard Hughes and they dated. She’d lob ideas at him and would allow her to meet with many of his top scientists. 

My Take: Most people have probably never heard of Hedy Lamarr unless you are over the age of 60 or so. However, she has one of the most interesting lives I have ever seen. Let’s take a look at the highlights: 

  • Won a beauty contest at the age of 12 
  • Started starring in movies and was in a…ahem…explicit one at 18. It isn’t explicit today but things were way different back then 
  • Escaped the Nazis 
  • Came to America, became a film star 
  • Invented a device for frequency hopping that is still used today for things like Bluetooth 
  • Got married 6 times 
  • Inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame (posthumously) 

The documentary hits all the highlights and doesn’t shy away from the fact that she could also be downright weird and abrasive as well. 

If someone says a beautiful woman can’t also be smart, just show them this. Then punch them. (Disclaimer: Figuratively, not literally. I don’t advocate violence. They are stupid, though.)  

Verdict: A very good documentary. Go watch.  

If You Liked This Try:  

  • Presidents at War 
  • Hitler’s Circle of Evil 

Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez (Netflix)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: Well, that was all very unpleasant.

Quick synopsis: The life and death of Aaron Hernandez who was a great football player and multiple murderer. So, he had that going for him.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: It’s really unnerving seeing Hernandez acting normal at press events after he just straight up killed people.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: Aaron Hernandez killed people but isn’t technically a convicted murderer. If you die before your appeal is heard, then your conviction is vacated. That’s nice for him.

My Take: Honestly, you just feel bad at the end of this.

You have Aaron Hernandez who killed multiple people. He also was probably in the closet. Probably abused by his father. Enabled in a lot of situations. Probably had head traumas.

You start to feel bad for him and then quickly remember all the people he assaulted and murdered. Or the daughter he left behind. And the numerous other people left in his evil wake.

The 3 episodes are roller coasters. They keep pulling back the layers of the onion and it just gets worse and worse. The most effective is the phone calls made from jail that were recorded. They are unnerving in a lot of ways.

There is one major problem throughout the documentary. Some of the major threads are not quite proven but more explored. They posit Hernandez was gay, but other than a high school boyfriend it is not entirely clear that it’s a fact. The discussion of his brain and CTE is similarly not explored enough for my tastes.

Verdict: This is really interesting and does a lot of digging but lacks focus on what it’s trying to say. Worth the watch.  

If You Liked This Try:

  • Abducted in Plain Sight
  • Chernobyl
  • Saints & Strangers
  • John Adams

Abducted in Plain Sight

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: WHAT THE EVERLOVING F—?!

Quick synopsis: Jan Broberg was sexually molested by a family friend. You will meet her and a string of some of the dumbest human beings you have ever seen.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: She was kidnapped more than once. By the same guy.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: “It’s just kid’s stuff.” Yeah, when you get to this part just try not to scream at the TV.

My Take: Oh. My. God.

Here’s a fun game. Try and guess within the first ten minutes who you will want to punch the most other than the disgusting child molester. You will be AMAZED how quickly that list grows.

I audibly cursed at the TV at least 3 times. I did not believe what I was hearing. I legitimately thought this may be some sort of dark spoof of the true crime drama.

It is not. This happened. All of it. And you will want to commit murder. A lot of murder.

Jan Broberg should not be able to even function as a human being with what she went through and how many people let her down (including the two people who never should have let it happen). Instead, she somehow helped write a book and do lectures on this. Oh, and wait until the courtroom scene at the end with her molester. She’s a badass.

Ever hear someone say that being “into” children is just their “thing”? Have fun feeling super gross!

Verdict: Want to rage? Watch this. You will rage.  

If You Liked This Try:

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

Togo (Disney+)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: I’m not crying. You’re crying. Shut up.

Quick synopsis: The story of Togo, the most important lead sled dog in the Nome 1925 Serum Run. It became what we know today as the Iditarod.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: You probably heard of the Iditarod and a dog named Balto. Balto ran 55 miles of the journey in awful conditions. Togo ran 260 miles. I’m going to go punch a wall.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: The lowest temperature with windchill during Togo’s leg of the run was -85 degrees. Not a typo, people.

My Take: This movie made me feel many feelings.

First, let’s get the actual history clear. Diphtheria hits Nome, Alaska mostly effecting children. A cure exists. That cure is in Anchorage. If you don’t know the topography of Alaska, then I will tell you this is a major problem. The big thinkers say they can fly there with this somewhat newfangled thing called an airplane. It’s too cold and it will never work. What’s the plan? Mushers and sled dogs. 674 miles in subzero temperatures.

Now, let’s discuss the movie. It’s Willem Dafoe doing a very subdued Willem Dafoe performance which works quite well actually. There is the crisis interspersed with flashbacks to Togo being a gigantic pain in the ass.

As I am a history nerd and this is one of the most amazing stories I had ever read before seeing the movie, I had my eyes peeled for them to go Hollywood all over this thing. Thankfully, they were very respectful of the history and the people (and dogs!) throughout. If you are a parent, don’t actually tell your kids what happened to Togo. You won’t be able to explain it and they will be pissed and upset.

Other than that. It is spot on.

Verdict: If you love dogs, then this is for you. If you don’t love dogs, then you are a serial killer. Move on.

If You Liked This Try:

  • Gay and Laney Salisbury, The Cruelest Miles (read it read it read it read it)
  • Chernobyl (HBO)
  • Saints & Strangers (TV miniseries)

1917

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: Holy S—!

Quick synopsis: Two British soldiers in World War I are sent to stop Allied Forces from walking into a trap. Yes, it’s fiction but I don’t care even a little bit.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: The entire movie is shot in three continuous shots. The camera just follows the action through some truly insane scenarios.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: All of it. Peak nerdgasm. The detail is ridiculous.

My Take: Normally I don’t review anything fiction. This is too good for me to ignore.

The movie follows two soldiers sent through no man’s land to head off a possible massacre. The first few minutes is just the two of them walking through the trenches. The detail is so rich you don’t have enough time to take everything in. I’m going to see it again soon just to be able to be more observant.

If you are not a history nerd, the story alone is easy to follow and flows really well. You definitely get invested and will learn some things along the way (God forbid!).

As mentioned above, the movie is actually three long shots. The camera just follows as the plot moves along. This should win all of the awards. I actually read the negative reviews of the movie to see what people actually complained about. Their comments were stupid.

And then the end. Big rousing set piece. Quiet character moment. Not a dry eye in the house.

Verdict: See it. Do it now. Go.

If You Liked This Try: They Shall Not Grow old.

John Adams (HBO)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: Paul Giamatti playing a jerk. He’s the best at it!

Quick synopsis: The events of John Adams’ life covered by the book of the same name by David McCullough.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: John Adams was the lawyer for the British soldiers accused in the Boston Massacre. He got most of them acquitted. If you didn’t know that then you need to read this blog more.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: I can’t pick just one! Don’t make me!

My Take: Ah, yes. This is my sweet spot. Give me some good American Revolution TV and I am in heaven.

Sometimes Hollywood casts characters perfectly. John Adams was a very smart and acerbic man who was short and stocky. They got Paul Giamatti. No brainer.

Abigail Adams was an amazingly intelligent woman who would not suffer fools. Laura Linney? You’re damn right. (Side note: If you don’t know how amazing Abigail Adams was just start with Wikipedia. Can I have a historical nerd crush? I can and I do.)

Once you knock those two roles out of the park then the rest is easy. A lot of other characters are well cast but this whole thing hinges on John and Abigail and they are perfect. I actually read some reviews who complained Giamatti was miscast. People are stupid sometimes.

The series takes the viewer from right before the Revolution to Adams’ death and covers all the major aspects you would expect. Is it perfect history? No. There are some understandable liberties taken for dramatic effect (and some which are just baffling), but for the most part it keeps the history pretty well intact. It’s also interesting and an easy watch.

Verdict: Watch this. Now. Go. I give you permission to stop reading this blog but come back right after.  

If You Liked This Try:

  • Chernobyl
  • Saints & Strangers

Catherine the Great (HBO)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: Bold move by the screenwriters making Catherine the Great suck.

Quick synopsis: Part of Catherine the Great’s life but not really.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: You can watch the first episode. All of it is exposition in a very distracting and terrible way.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: Don’t watch this if you are a history nerd. You will lose your damn mind.

My Take: Chernobyl was really good on HBO. This is not.

Small confession up front. I am not a professional TV critic. Please hold your shock. This is a good thing because I only had to watch the first episode of this miniseries and then I could walk away. I did.

The first episode is just one gigantic and annoying exposition dump and not even a good one at that. Exposition is important in catching the viewer up on what is happening and who people are. However, when a character explains something to another character you need to be careful not to pull the viewer out of the moment by doing something stupid. Such as, it makes no sense to have a character explain to Catherine the Great her own life. SHE IS CATHERINE THE GREAT. SHE KNOWS HER OWN LIFE.

Another example: multiple characters talk back to Catherine the Great. That would not happen in Russia during this time. You’d be killed. Catherine the Great was (comparatively) humane. It’s Russia, though.

Another problem: Helen Mirren is an amazing actress. However, she is also not young. I spent the entire episode trying to understand when this was all happening chronologically because the details were all over the place and Helen Mirren looks her age.

I finished the first episode, dear reader. I am sorry, but I refuse to go any further. I’ll probably watch one of the recommendations at the bottom all over again.

Verdict: Don’t. Just don’t.  

If You Liked This Then I Can’t Help You. If You Want Something Good:

  • Chernobyl
  • Saints & Strangers
  • John Adams

Versailles

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: T&A with a touch of history.

Quick synopsis: The story of Louis XIV and his buildup of Versailles as the center of the French aristocracy.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: They do a whole story arc on the Man in the Iron Mask! It’s probably made up though. But maybe not!

Fun Fact for History Nerds: They actually shoot some stuff at Versailles! And it makes me wish I were born a king….

My Take: This show was so trashy. I loved it.

Chronicling Louis XIV’s move to make Versailles the epicenter of France, this show takes you through various intrigues from he Affair of the Poisons to the eve of the War of the Spanish Succession. All of these things take back seats to boobs, butts, and pretty clothes.

Like a lot of historical shows loosely based on actual events, Versailles plays fast and loose with the facts. At various points, people’s ages at the time of events are grossly incorrect, but the show needs pretty faces so what can you do?

It could quickly go off the rails every episode if not for my MVPs of the show, Philippe d’Orleans and Chevalier. The lovers are an open secret at court and the actors obviously have so much fun. Philippe’s extremely screwed up childhood (seriously, google it) allows Alexander Vlahos, the actor, to be a million different awesome people in one.

Plus, a lot of nudity.

Verdict: It’s a fun watch. Maybe 20% accurate but when a guy reigns for 72 years you need to do a little compression of events.  

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

  • Vikings
  • Hatfields and McCoys
  • The Tudors
  • The Crown

Presidents At War

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: George H.W. Bush was a badass this whole time and we didn’t know it.

Quick synopsis: A look at all the U.S. Presidents who served in WWII.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: George H.W. Bush was the youngest naval fighter pilot ever. And he volunteered for it. Even though it was the deadliest position in the armed forces.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: Richard Nixon was always a conniver, even in WWII. While the story about him making money off his fellow soldiers probably wasn’t that bad, it just feels like it portends to him being a future mess.

My Take: This series can really be broken down into three tiers of presidents:

The “Real American Heroes” Division – Eisenhower, Kennedy, Bush

The “Served Their Country with Distinction but Not as Cool as the Real American Heroes” Division – Nixon, Reagan

The “They Were Actually in This Show? I Didn’t Notice” Division – Johnson, Carter, Ford

Seriously, Johnson got a Silver Star because he got on the right plane. I may remember his story, but he still goes in the bottom tier. I digress.

This show is very good to introduce you to all the presidents before they came to office. World War II allowed for some of them to truly distinguish themselves and per my rankings above, some did, and some didn’t. The stories come quick and fast with a lot of interesting tidbits.

Some of the presenters lay it on a little too thick for my taste, but it doesn’t ruin the show.

Verdict: Good show that even non-history nerds will like.

If You Liked This Try: Pretty much any WWII documentary on Netflix. Even the bad ones are pretty good.