The best true-crime shows on Netflix and Showmax
The last few years have seen a resurgence of the true-crime genre – which probably speaks volumes to the weird times we’re living in. But there’s something unique about true-crime stories: they allow us to explore the darkest, most gruesome, most deviant aspects of human nature from the safety of our warm and cosy couches.
These shows and movies are pure escapism, neatly packaged in a bingeable format. So, for all you armchair detectives, here are some of the most mind-boggling and bizarre true-crime shows to stream in South Africa.
Unsolved Mysteries (Netflix)
Yup. The Unsolved Mysteries that many of us watched religiously during the 90s is back. Netflix has given this true-crime staple a new lease on life with six new, tragic tales of unsolved crimes and mysteries.
But, if you’re expecting the tabloid-esque style that dominated a lot of true crime 20-odd years ago, you’re going to be a little disappointed. You may also miss Robert Slack, with his solemn voice, on a smoke-filled set. The Netflix version is sleeker, following the documentary style of popular true-crime shows of the moment. The new format gives more time for victims, or those left behind, to tell the story, which adds more credibility to the series.
It’s riveting viewing, from the death of Ray Rivera to the chilling family murder in House of Terror, and you’ll be hooked even while you’re railing against the injustice of it all.
Once a powerful titan in the film industry, now a convicted sex offender, Harvey Weinstein’s name is synonymous with the #MeToo movement. Rightly so – allegations against Weinstein have been circulating for a long time, eventually leading to the movement.
This sweeping documentary pulls back the veil on Hollywood’s glamour, and reveals the ugly side of a business that owes its existence to beauty. It shows how all-powerful men like Weinstein call all the shots – how they can make or break entire careers.
In the industry that brought into existence the idea of the “casting couch”, a lot of the work needed for a sexual predator to thrive had already been done.
And that’s what makes this such compelling viewing. We don’t just hear the painful experiences from Weinstein’s victims, but we hear from his employees and colleagues. It paints a picture that’s not all silver-screen and awards, but one of complicity from an entire industry.
Athlete A (Netflix)
Athlete A picks apart the web of scandal and conspiracy that rocked the sporting world. It’s the story of Larry Nassar, the USA Gymnastics doctor who abused and assaulted the girls and young women in his care. So far, he’s been convicted on 10 counts of assault and sentenced for 360 years.
How is it possible that Nassar was able to carry out such grievous crimes for so long (he was the team’s doctor for 29 years)? This is exactly what this film explores. It not only looks at the crimes, but how the very culture in the team made it possible for a predator like Nassar to survive. It details how the culture helped hide his crimes and cover them up for decades.
We see how the girls’ rigorous and brutal training was a form of torture in itself, creating a dangerous environment for someone like Nassar to prey on the innocent. A dangerous environment that wanted winners – at any cost. It’s grim, scary, unsettling viewing. You won’t want to look away for a minute.
Get your Big Macs ready and get yourself comfy for one of the most bizarre large-scale crimes of the past few decades. Between 1989 and 2001, there where almost no legitimate winners of any high-value prize in the promotional McDonald’s Monopoly game.
Crazy, right? What’s even crazier is the story that unfolds following an FBI investigation. And no, the Hamburgler was not behind this daring theft of millions. McDonald’s was the victim of fraud that spanned decades and amounted to millions. How is this even possible?
How this actually all plays out, and how the FBI eventually caught those responsible, is highly entertaining. This six-part series is an enjoyable as it is insane. Instead of gory crime-scene depictions there are fake commercials and trips to Vegas, rank amateurism and organised crime, reluctant and eager participants, duffle bags of money, a tiny dog with a foul temper, and a mob widow.
If you needed any more proof that real life is stranger than fiction, look no further than this. It’s great.
The Pharmacist (Netflix)
Armchair detectives and amateur sleuths will find this serial true-crime documentary absolutely thrilling. It tells the tale of Dan Schneider, a pharmacist, who stops at nothing in finding his son’s killer.
His son, Danny, was a crack addict. Appalled by the lack of interest by police in his son’s death, Schneider takes action himself. He interviews witnesses and records them – believing that one day he’ll be called to testify at trial for his son’s murder.
But finding his son’s murderer is just the start. What follows is how Schneider uncovers a web of crime around the state’s emerging epidemic of opioid abuse. It’s a gripping tale of twists and turns, with Schneider the likeable hero in a David vs Goliath story. It weaves the tale of global capitalist greed that results in an opioid crisis, and it’s totally unmissable.
Someone to Blame: The Ahmed Timol Inquest (Showmax)
Hitting close to home, this award-winning documentary examines the inquest into the murder of anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Timol, who died in police custody in 1971.
The initial inquest back in 1972 ruled Timol’s death a suicide – in spite of evidence of police torture, and the fact that he was the 22nd person to die in police custody. His loved ones never believed that he committed suicide, and 45 years after his death a second inquest was held over 20 days. The details that emerged gripped the entire nation.
This documentary tells the tale of a brutal murder, police cover-ups, and eventual serving of justice more than four decades after Timol lost his life. It weaves news coverage, interviews, and facts from the case into a tragic, emotional tale. Someone to Blame casts light on how political prisoners were treated by police under apartheid and the torture they endured.
It’s a brutal reminder of South Africa’s horrific past. But ultimately, this is the story of one family seeking answers and justice for the heartless murder of a young man.
There have been as many memes following this series as there have been shocked reviews. My favourite has to be “If I ever go missing, get Baudi Moovan on the case”. This Netflix true-crime doccie series explores how strangers on the internet successfully hunt down a murderer.
With the number of unsolved cases and amateur sleuths out there, why dedicate a whole series to this one? Well, that boils down to the internet’s unspoken Rule Zero: don’t f**k with cats.
Sound dramatic? It is. In 2010, disturbing videos of cats being killed were posted online, angering the wrong people on the internet. They took apart every single frame of the videos, trying to find the perpetrator before they struck again. Which they did. Not just with more cat killings, but eventually with the murder of a man called Jun Lin – which was filmed and posted.
It’s a cat-and-mouse story that’s utterly unsettling and deeply disturbing. It has interviews with the internet-famous Deanna Thompson (aka Baudi Moovan) and John Green, and how they hunted down a killer on the internet.
Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness (Netflix)
You’re about the enter the peculiar and weird world of Joe Exotic. Who exactly is Joe Exotic? He’s a former zoo and tiger owner who was in a polygamous marriage with two men, unsuccessfully tried to run for President, and is now serving time for conspiracy to commit murder and other crimes.
Hold on to your hats, cats and kittens, that description is probably the most normal thing there is about Tiger King. It’ll immerse you into a world of crime, scandal, drugs, murder, and the sale of big-cats in America. It’s exactly the right kind of weirdness for the current strangeness we’re living through. But, be warned, you’ll feel so unclean after each episode you’ll need to take a long, hot shower to get rid of the sordidness of what you’ll witness.
You’ll get introduced to a wide range of characters who will entertain and disturb you in equal measure. There’s the Tiger King himself, Joe Exotic, and his arch nemesis, Carol Baskin, who he was convinced was out to get him and to close down his zoo.
No matter where you fall on the Joe/Carole issue, one thing you won’t be able to stop wondering is, what happened to Carole’s first husband?
Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich (Netflix)
A story of money, international crime, and very powerful people, Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich connects the dots of decades of sexual abuse. It paints a picture that’s unsettling to see – how a wealthy man used his money, connections and influence to not only abuse young women, but ti keep it hushed.
An alarming number of survivors (some of them were assaulted as far back as the 80s) tell their harrowing tales of abuse, how they were silenced, and how many of them lived in fear. That’s not the only disturbing detail told in the series. We hear from some survivors about how they were manipulated into recruiting other young girls into a sick pyramid-scheme of abuse.
The show touches on Epstein’s connections to powerful people – Prince Andrew, Donald Trump, Bill Clinton were all linked to the convicted sexual offender at some point, some with legitimate business or philanthropic dealings (like Bill Clinton), and others for less savoury reasons (Prince Andrew).
While money could buy Epstein a lot (like his own private island), it couldn’t stop the truth from eventually coming out in the wash and justice finally being served.