LOS ANGELES — School may be out for summer, but that doesn’t mean the learning has to end. Documentary series have the rare ability to make hard facts fascinating by constructing enticing visual narratives around real-world phenomena.
From Oscar-winning crime documentaries like “O.J. Simpson: Made in America” to the environmental enigmas of BBC’s reboot of “Blue Planet,” documentaries on various streaming services are patiently waiting to entertain and educate viewers about the some of the world’s most mystifying circumstances. Take a look below at the list of docu-series to stream this summer.
Netflix’s “The Staircase” explores the mystery behind American novelist Michael Peterson, who was charged with murdering his wife, Kathleen Peterson, in 2003 after police found her dead body at the foot of a staircase in their house. Michael Peterson was granted a new trial in 2017, and the show, which began streaming June 8, explores his and the prosecutor’s sides of the chilling story, including three all-new episodes.
Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown
Bourdain may no longer be around, but his legacy lives with the beloved CNN docu-series “Parts Unknown.” Whether re-watching favorite episodes for healing and nostalgia purposes or discovering Bourdain’s charismatic spirit for the first time, following the chef’s adventures as he seeks new cultures and cuisine around the world ensures captivating joy.
Wild Wild Country
Netflix series “Wild Wild Country” seeks to uncover the truth behind Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, who sparked scandal with his cult-like following in the Rajneeshpuram community in Wasco County, Oregon during the early 1980s. The docu-series delves into the weird and mysterious happenings that caused some to devote themselves to Rajneeshpuram and others to denounce him.
Making a Murderer
Every good crime documentary needs a head-scratching case, and Netflix’s making a murderer fits that bill two-fold, following the curious life of Steven Avery, who was released from prison after 18 years when newfound evidence found him innocent of allegedly sexually assaulting a woman in his community. But the docu-series’ real investigation kicks in when Avery is arrested again years later for a murder he also claims he didn’t commit.
Murder and religious corruption fuel the documentary plot of Netflix’s “The Keepers,” which begins as an investigation into the puzzling disappearance of a beloved Catholic nun. But as the show goes on, the story begins to take a turn, suggesting that the whodunnit behind Sister Cathy’s death is just the beginning.
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A departure from Netflix’s deep bench of murder docu-series, “Evil Genius,” picks apart a different kind of crime: bank robbery. The show offers viewers a glimpse into the FBI investigation of the curious case of a man who walked into a bank one day wearing an explosive around his neck, featuring a strange set of suspects that begin to pique as much individual interest as the robbery itself.
OJ: Made in America
The 2017 Academy Award-winner for documentary feature, “O.J.: Made in America” can now be seen on Hulu, and takes a close look into perhaps the most highly publicized homicide case of all time. But “Made in America” is more than just a crime documentary about the disgraced football player’s alleged murder of his wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend. What sets the documentary apart is its deft extrapolation of Simpson’s narrative to a greater picture of racial tensions in L.A. and the United States.
The Toys That Made Us
It’s no secret that America is a consumer society, but “The Toys that Made Us” takes that truth and unpacks it, exploring the inner workings of various iconic toy franchises, like Barbie, LEGO, and Hello Kitty, that helped define the nation’s penchant for excessive consumerism and how their respective marketing strategies contributed to their successes or downfalls. Available to stream on Netflix, the business series is a welcome departure from the crime-dominated docu-world.
Blue Planet II
Available on Amazon, BBC’s critically-acclaimed reboot of one of its most successful documentary series uncovers mysteries that have nothing to do with scandal, murder, or betrayal. “Blue Planet II” explores the many facets of the ocean, including the mystifying lives of the world’s most curious sea creatures, letting viewers scuba dive into the deep without needing an air tank, with the help of mind-stimulating narration from David Attenborough.
A&E Investigates: Cults and Extreme Beliefs
Hosted by American journalist Elizabeth Vargas, “Cults and Extreme Beliefs” delves into the shocking and dangerous cultures and dogmas of various American cults. Rather than simply taking a look at dangerous and toxic groups from the outside, the docu-series takes its investigation a step further by interviewing real members and ex-members of the cults themselves about their often-disturbing experiences.
The Last Defense
From executive producer Viola Davis, ABC’s “The Last Defense” doesn’t just spread one criminal case over the course of multiple episodes. It focuses on a different mystery with each installment, each exposing various holes and flaws in the American criminal justice system, expanding the show’s significance beyond the cases themselves and into larger politics of the law.