10 Best Documentary Series to Watch Right Now

10 Best Documentary Series to Watch Right Now

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Television has been an invaluable tool for journalism and education for as long as television’s been around. This means that documentaries—typically more in-depth and more artfully presented like films—have always been at home on TV, where they can cover a greater breadth of material. And in recent years, documentary series have taken on a popularity of their own in the realms of true crime, sports, nature, and many others, with countless shows being released every year. Here at agoodmovietowatch, we’ve listed 10 documentary or reality-based series that might have flown under the radar of your streaming algorithms but remain high-quality examples of what factual, informational, and even experimental reporting can accomplish.

10. The Choe Show

best

8.2

Country

United States of America

Actors

David Choe

Moods

Docu-series, Emotional, Grown-up Comedy

In the hands of a lesser artist, something like The Choe Show might have come off as a vanity project or an excuse to show off one’s art and one’s thoughts about art. But David Choe seems to want the opposite: together with an eclectic mix of guests, he lays bare his most shameful feelings and hardest struggles without ever asking the audience for sympathy and forgiveness—all the while using paint and performance to carve a path toward healing and mutual understanding.

The interviews are already impressive on their own, pitched somewhere between a casual chat and an exorcism of personal demons. But it’s around these conversations about addiction, abandonment, and family trauma where the show truly comes to life. With a whole team of animators and illustrators, Choe lets every pointed statement and loaded anecdote leap off the screen. Noise, color, photographs, home video tapes, and performance art footage constantly invade what we’re watching, as if the show is being created and reinvented right before our eyes. Fun, chaotic, boundlessly imaginative, and always open to change—if that’s how it is with art, that’s how it should be with people, too.

9. Formula 1: Drive to Survive

8.2

Country

UK, United States of America

Actors

Charles Leclerc

Moods

Docu-series, Gripping, Mini-series

There are only 20 seats in Formula 1 each year, meaning that drivers are not only racing to win but to be kept on the roster. With the big stars, Ferrari and Mercedes, habitually shrouded in secrecy, Formula 1: Drive to Survive focuses more on the back of the grid. Lewis Hamilton, the five-time world champion, is rarely seen, for example, giving more room for other stories to unfold, including that of Günther Steiner, the Italian team principal of the Haas Formula One Team. That is not to say there are no big reveals. Even if you think Formula 1 is a decadent, testosterone-driven sports for rich Europeans, Drive to Survive might be welcome crash course into what makes this sport so appealing for many and might also have the potential to change your mind. If not, it is still a very well-made, slick, and engaging docuseries that will have enthusiasts and newcomers thoroughly entertained.

8. Losers

8.4

Country

United States of America

Actors

Mauro Prosperi, Michael Bentt, Surya Bonaly

Moods

Docu-series, Instructive, Thought-provoking

While this perspective on competitive sports is obviously unconventional, it makes perfect sense. Winners are boring. If you win, you win. The losers, however, have defeat to deal with. As the proverb goes, you learn little from victory, but a great deal from defeat. Director and creator of the show’s amazing animation, Mickey Duzyj, was inspired by a personal experience during a tennis tournament as a teenager. Each episode of this 2019 Netflix show tells a different story from a different sport. For starters, episode one looks at Michael Bentt, a world champion boxer who was forced into the sport by his abusive father. So, things do get dark, as could be expected, the storytelling is complex, but the message of Losers is as simple as it is wholesome. Like the characters and life stories it portrays, this show will pick you up when you are down!

7. Explained

8.4

Country

d, United States of America

Moods

Docu-series, Instructive

Produced by Ezra Klein’s Vox Media, an explanatory news site with liberal leanings, this may well be Netflix’s first successful attempt at a traditional weekly television show. And a news show at that. But as the title suggests, Explained doesn’t aim at updating you on current events, but takes short but in-depth looks at topics that tend to get overlooked in news cycles such as the racial wealth gap, monogamy, and the rise of cryptocurrencies. The idea is not unique. The only thing YouTube might have more of than make-up advice videos are explanatory monologues by self-declared Illuminati. However, those familiar with Vox Media’s previous outings on YouTube know to expect high production value, serious research, and digestible visual journalism at its best. Don’t watch it with your special uncle, though because he will start yelling at the television.

6. Our Planet

8.5

Country

UK, United States of America

Actors

David Attenborough

Moods

Docu-series, Instructive

I can’t think of a good reason why this review shouldn’t just be two words: David Attenborough. With a voice that makes you wish every other voice in your life was the same, the star of Planet Earth teamed up with Netflix to make this new nature show. It took four years to film, and it bounces countless times between continents in every episode. It’s rich, vivid, and oh so beautiful. So they just made another Planet Earth? Not exactly. Our Planet has a much stronger environmental message. It’s not a line here and there about the negative impact we’ve had on the planet – it’s the theme behind the whole show. It’s frank, sad, but always, always, stunning.

5. Evil Genius

8.5

Country

d

Moods

Binge-Worthy, Challenging, Docu-series

There is footage and coverage to prove that the pizza bomber story actually happened but watching Evil Genius: The True Story of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist everything is so intriguing it is almost impossible to believe. A pizza-delivery guy shows up to rob a bank with what he says is a bomb secured around his neck, something that he claims is part of a treasure hunt. By robbing the bank, he will unlock the next set of clues that will allow him to defuse the bomb. Bank tellers comply but on the way out he is suddenly arrested by the police, who doubt his claims, handcuff him and keep him at a distance. The device he has around his neck then starts beeping. What follows is one of the most unusual investigations ever led by security forces, brilliantly framed by executive producers Duplass brothers. A perfect follow-up to their other amazing True-crime Netflix collaboration, Wild Wild Country, it’s a tight 4-episodes that is equally terrifying and intriguing.

4. The Pharmacist

8.6

Country

United States of America

Moods

Docu-series, Instructive, Mini-series

We call it a Netflix true crime documentary, but, in fact, this compelling four-parter is much more than that. It homes in on the fate of an immensely empathetic, soft-spoken, and likable family man, who loses his teenage son to drug-related violence in New Orleans’ notorious Lower 9th Ward in 1999. With corruption rampant in the city’s police department, he takes matters into his own hands and investigates his son’s murder by himself.

In doing so, main protagonist Dan Schneider notices a rise in opioid prescriptions from one doctor in particular. Fueled by a relentless determination to protect other children from addiction, he quits his job and begins gathering evidence against this doctor and, by extension, the company responsible for the sale of the notorious opioid-based painkiller Oxycodone: Purdue Pharma. In the course of his investigation, Schneider records all his findings, evidence, and intimate thoughts on audio and video. This sense of immediacy and the pretty breathtaking twists of his story make this Netflix production rise above other true crime formats. It uses the power and charisma of one individual to come to grips with a crisis of global proportions.

3. The Rehearsal

best

8.8

Actors

Nathan Fielder

Moods

Binge-Worthy, Challenging, Discussion-sparking

The best thing about The Rehearsal—Nathan Fielder’s elaborate Russian doll of social experiments and self-examination—is how seamlessly it goes from prank comedy to surrealist horror. The show’s concept of staging situations where real people can practice making an important decision (complete with actors playing all the background characters) pays off in spades. Fielder’s insistence on over-preparation collides beautifully with the unpredictability of human behavior, leading to some of the funniest and weirdest interactions to grace TV.

But the greatest trick that The Rehearsal has up its sleeve is Fielder, playing a version of himself using this show to understand how to live a meaningful life. As he stretches these rehearsals beyond their limit (at certain points, recreating his own rehearsals with someone playing himself), his character’s persona also begins to crack. Suddenly the series isn’t just a comedy, but a poignant reflection on empathy and forgiveness, and a psychological mind-bender about an egomaniac who refuses to give up control of reality itself. There’s nothing else like it on television.

2. 1994

best

9.0

Country

Mexico, N/A

Actors

Carlos Salinas de Gortari, Rafael Sebastián Guillén Vicente

Moods

Docu-series, Instructive, Mini-series

Have you finished Wild Wild Country and are up for another binge-worthy documentary? If so, 1994 might be a compelling option for you to consider. Released on Netflix for the 25th anniversary of the events in 2019, most of the story would be hard to believe if it wasn’t… you know… based on facts and backed up by archival footage and interviews. As it often goes with documentaries, truth is stranger than fiction.

In 1994, the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, also known as the EZLN or the Zapatistas, declared war on the Mexican government. This happened after the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, was signed into law. Incumbent Mexican president Salinas (pictured above) selected prominent reformist presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio to become his heir. Just three months later, Colosio was shot in Tijuana on live television.

1994 is a rich, informative, and fascinating account of this violent and tumultuous year in Mexican history, featuring in-depth interviews with many of those pulling the strings at the time, including former president Salinas. As the people being interviewed point out, understanding the relevance of 1994 in Mexican politics will help you understand the country’s political and economic landscape today.

1. Wild Wild Country

best

9.8

Country

United States of America

Actors

George Meredith, Ma Anand Sheela, Osho, Philip Toelkes

Moods

Docu-series, Mini-series, Thought-provoking

Wild Wild Country follows the relocation of a hippie cult from India to Oregon in 1981. You haven’t heard of Wasco Country? Nor had anybody else back then. This ghost town with a handful of god-fearing inhabitants, soon became Rajneeshpuram, the cult’s new homestead, home to a thousand disciples, and the subject of nationwide media attention. Spoiler: the town’s old residents did not think much of it.

Will there be debaucherous orgies, long-haired drop-outs, preaching and chanting? Yes. But, through historical footage and interviews with contemporaries, including Ma Anand Sheela, the power-hungry secretary of the orange-clad guru, you will also be absorbed by chemical weapons and attempted murder, one of the biggest immigration fraud case in US history, and, of course, the mysterious and not-so-mysterious ways that a charismatic cult attracts and manipulates its followers. Across six one-hour episodes, this Netflix miniseries by brothers Maclain and Chapman Way gives a captivating, exhaustive, and powerful account of one of the stranger moments in American media history.

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