Written by Cole Wissinger, Netflix Aficionado
Images courtesy of Getty Images (Banner Image) and IMDB.com (other images)
It’s been a busy May in the media world. Brooklyn Nine-Nine was cancelled then it wasn’t. Rosanne was a ratings darling then it was cancelled. Kanye is in Wyoming doing something. Deadpool and Solo both came out. [Check out our piece on Solo] And almost 2 billion dollars worth of you and your friends hard earned dollars went into watching Avengers 4. Netflix also released a second season of a great one-shot 13 Reasons Why, a couple other originals, and announced that they would release 1,000 originals by the end of the year.
Yes. 1,000 Netflix branded things in the span of the year.
Now the definition of a Netflix Original is loose and includes many shows that are produced in their entirety without Netflix anywhere near it. Sometimes what is a normal network show in one country is branded a Netflix Original in another. A whole show can become an Original if Netflix buys it and adds a mediocre season or two. There is a yearly allotment of Adam Sandler schlock that technically count as “movies”. It’s a lot to sort through, and with more and more coming, you are going to need a guide to find your way through the good, bad, or ridiculous of the Netflix Originals.
That’s where I come in.
I’m prepared to dig deeper than what Netflix thinks you want to watch Because You Watched (the first 10 minutes of) The Bee Movie. I can tell you what is Trending other than The Office, Parks and Rec, and Friends. Basically their algorithm for finding new content sucks so I’m here to tell you what to search for specifically because that might be the only way to find these sometimes great originals.
This month I had a type. Like your roommate that keeps bringing home the same kind of girl but refuses to see it until you compare them side by side. My redheaded elementary school teacher with dependency issues had a type too. It was four part documentaries about conspiracy theories and murder.
First up, Evil Genius
Evil Genius is true crime in its truest form. There are recorded prison conversations, recreations of the crime scene, and bulletin boards with connecting pieces. It tells how an armed robbery in Erie, PA turned out to be so much more. Or was it???
Part one begins with the most captivating crime I’ve ever seen begin a true crime story. A simple pizza delivery guy walked into a bank demanding $250,000 holding a shotgun cane and with a bomb strapped around his neck. After getting about $8,000 he left to go on a scavenger hunt that would presumably lead to his freedom. The police intervened, as they try to do when you rob a bank, and called in the bomb squad. While everyone waited on the main street of Erie, time was ticking down in this homemade collar contraption. I’ll advise viewer discretion after that because police video shows the gruesome result of waiting out a time bomb.
Evil Genius doesn’t begin to describe the people that could conceive of the elaborate plot that would then unravel for the rest of this and the three remaining episodes. They found nine pages of notes describing how to rob the bank and what to do afterwards. The inside of the bomb was similarly notated with confusing and misdirecting information. All of that planning went to waste because the one thing the masterminds didn’t plan for was normal police procedure. They (whoever they are) planned an convoluted chase around Erie finding clues and keys. They included red herrings inside the bombs to mislead the disarmers. They had a genius plan, that police didn’t find out about until after the robber was dead.
Evil Genius does a great job examining the lives of the men and women involved in this plot. Each episode reveals a deeper web than you can imagine as more details are revealed and more characters become involved. The Geniuses themselves are such a different kind of person than most of our young college educated readers interact with daily. The documentary gets inside their minds and gives a glimpse of how they thought it would all go down.
Unlike other true crime entries of the past few years, this is a digestible four hour-long episodes. It also has a more satisfying conclusion than I’ve come across in my experience in the genre.
The usual tropes are still there as the documentarians become more involved in the case in later episodes, but the way it was all introduced in the first episode was enough to carry me through. If you can watch the first episode of this without getting sucked in, then this genre is probably not for you. If you want to learn what the genre is all about without any of the real life gore, then I’d suggest another Netflix Original from earlier this year, American Vandal, a satirical take where a high school AV Club kid tells the story of a classmate who was suspended for spray painting dicks on teachers’ cars.
Second, Bobby Kennedy for President
I tiptoed around the spoilers in the last one, but my next recommendation comes from the pages of your history textbook. Well hopefully your history book, because my history classes in middle school and high school always stopped after WW2, short of the 1960’s where this four-part documentary takes place.
Bobby Kennedy for President is an amazingly produced series composed of archival footage and modern perspective around the phenomenon that was Robert F. Kennedy. He was the charmed seventh child in the large and rich Kennedy political family. This series chronicles how all that luck and fame faded into misfortune and even talks of a curse and conspiracy.
For fans of Mad Men (seven fantastic seasons also available on Netflix) Bobby Kennedy for President also captures the aesthetic of a crazy decade. He is a small part of his brother’s presidential story, Martin Luther King’s civil rights story, or LBJ’s war story in the first few episodes. Then we follow his sudden run for president and even more sudden exit from the political and world stage. Like in Mad Men, it is astounding to be reminded of the major world events that all happened during such a short period of time, especially for someone like me that wasn’t alive to see it happen.
Bobby Kennedy is an important figure to study given today’s political climate because of the values he fought for. Neither racism nor minimum wage are exclusively 2018’s issues. He also was able to grow and change his mind while in the public’s eye. He worked to expand his perspective by visiting and loving the American people.
I am personally drawn to documentaries that start from a place I have interest and some knowledge and tell a story I had no idea about. Robert F. Kennedy has an intriguing enough story to carry the narrative of the doc while still connecting to the other recognizable stories of the era.
So sit back and take in these 8 hours of true stories, and check back next month when I’ll tell you what’s good and maybe hidden in Netflix.