Calling all internet sleuths, cloak-and-dagger conspiracy theorists, and cold case-solving aficionados: We see you, because we are you. For some unknown reason (though psychologists have sneaking suspicions), many of us are obsessed by true crime and the people behind the schemes, from the fraudulent socialites who seize the headlines for all the wrong reasons to the commanders-in-chief conducting sordid Oval Office affairs. And then there are the heinous cases of downright diabolical, cold-blooded killers, which we follow with fervor, both out of fear and fascination.
So, if you’ve already binged your way shamelessly through every available true crime show, we have your brand-new 2021 watchlist. And when your eyes need a break (or you just want to keep your internet browsing history from truly looking like something out of the serial killer’s playbook), plug in to one of our favorite true crime podcasts.
Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal (Netflix)
The real-life swindle was almost made for TV: Rick Singer, a college recruiting counselor, helped wealthy parents (like Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman) con their kids’ way into elite schools. The new Netflix film examines the-now infamous college admissions scandal scheme, featuring original media clips from the trial as well as reenacted scenes based on FBI wiretaps. More broadly, the series audits how privilege in general plays into college admission.
The Ripper (Netflix)
The Ripper technically came out in December of 2020, but if you were too busy watching Bridgerton you might have missed it. (Fair, I didn’t look up for eight straight hours, either.) The four-part miniseries investigates a serial killer (know as the Yorkshire Ripper) who took the lives of 13 women in West Yorkshire and Manchester from 1975 through 1980.
Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer (Netflix)
The summer of 1985 in Los Angeles is remembered for two things: One, there was a record-breaking heat wave that swept the city. And two, and most notable and notorious: there was a serial killer on the loose. With no defined pattern, the “Night Stalker,” as he was dubbed by the headlines, terrorized citizens while police chased for answers. This new Netflix documentary chronicles the case and includes interviews with the two L.A. County Sheriff’s Department detectives who finally apprehended the killer.
Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel (Netflix)
This four-part documentary dives into the mysterious, dangerous and notorious history of Los Angeles’s seedy and unsavory Cecil Hotel, where serial killers and criminals have stayed. The Netflix original focuses on the disappearance of a Cecil Hotel guest, Elisa Lam, and the investigators (and Internet sleuths) who worked the case.
Allen V. Farrow (HBO)
In this HBO four-part documentary series, Mia Farrow, Dylan Farrow, Ronan Farrow and more bravely share their personal stories and/or accusations of sexual abuse against Woody Allen. New investigative work, court documents, and private home videos shed new light on the case that has sparked conversation, controversy, and coverage for decades. The film also more broadly examines the concept of family trauma.
Murder Among the Mormons (Netflix)
Mark Hoffman is widely considered one of the most notorious forgers in history; this docuseries focuses on his creation of fraudulent documents for the Latter Day Saint movement and the subsequent murders he committed when the ruse went sour.
Dr. Death (Peacock)
Doctors swear to protect human life, but one Texas-based neurosurgeon decided to take life instead. Based on the widely popular podcast of the same name, this miniseries dissects the details of the confounding case of a back surgeon who killed or maimed 33 patients under his care. Also examined: the flawed hospital system in the United States that allowed him to continue to practice medicine for years. Joshua Jackson plays the insidious surgeon himself, Dr. Christopher Duntsch.
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Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story (Netflix)
Told predominately from the viewpoint of the notorious serial killer’s victim, Monster explores both Jeffrey Dahmer’s crime spree as well as the botched police investigation that allowed him to continue to kill for over 10 years. Headed by binge-show power duo Ryan Murphy (Ratched; American Horror Story) and Janet Mock (who made history as the first Black trans woman to establish an overall deal with Netflix), let’s hope this hits screens before 2022.
Premiere Date: TBD
Sons of Sam: A Descent Into Darkness (Netflix)
Murder! Cults! Investigative journalism! This has it all. The Netflix docuseries, directed by Joshua Zeman, chronicles reporter Maury Terry’s decades-long futile obsession with the Sons of Sam cases and his efforts to prove that convicted murderer David Berkowitz was actually part of a Satanic cult that assisted in the killings.
Nuclear Family (HBO Max)
Filmmaker Ry Russo-Young turns the camera on herself and her family to explore the experiences of her childhood when her lesbian mothers were served a lawsuit by the sperm donor they used to have kids. The deeply personal documentary expertly examines the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals and how the dynamics have changed in the past 50 years.
The Way Down: God, Greed, and the Cult of Gwen Shamblin (HBO Max)
If you ever wondered how a weight loss program could turn into a religion which could turn into, allegedly, an abusive cult, this doc’s for you. The HBO Max series tells the story of Gwen Shamblin and her Weigh Down Workshop, featuring shocking interviews with former members.
The Lady and the Dale (HBO Max)
From the Duplass brothers comes this unbelievable tale about Elizabeth Carmichael—consider her the Elizabeth Holmes of the 1970s. The four-episode docuseries tells the wild story about the entrepreneur’s efforts to scam the auto industry with a three-wheeled car during a gas crisis.
LuLaRich (Amazon Prime Video)
Multi-level marketing company or pyramid scheme? This four-part docuseries will convince you its all the same as it details the scams and jaw-dropping leadership decisions that went into growing the women’s internet apparel brand LuLaRoe.