1. Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness
Joe Exotic was married to not one, but two men at the same time. Throughout the documentary, you get the sense that neither of these men are willing partners. It is revealed that much of the relationship with these two young men was fostered upon their drug addiction. Seeking a reliable source of shelter and narcotics, these men fell victim to Joe’s charismatic personality and infallible drug supply. Centering around Joe’s strange relationships with his employees, and an investor named Jeff Lowe, the entire saga of Joe Exotic is laid out in front of you. From his peculiar entrance into the world of Zoo Keeping, through a strange plot to kill his nemesis and rival Tiger Owner, to his current situation – prison.
Carole Baskin, the owner of Big Cat Rescue, is introduced later in the series. She is the rival Tiger owner that Joe plotted to murder. She is purported to be an opponent of Joe Exotic, with the series delving into numerous legal and media battles the two had squared off in. Carole promotes herself to be a hero for Big Cats with an animal sanctuary designed to rehabilitate and rehome Tigers that have been kept in homes as pets or used in the entertainment realm. While these ideals on the surface seem to be legitimate, you come to find through the series that she has a facility that is similar if not inferior to Joe Exotic’s and is run much in the same way with Carole profiting from visitors and volunteers coming into the park.
Along with the help of Jeff Lowe and his horrifying assistant/hitman Alan, Joe produces a plan to hire Alan to kill Carole Baskin. The ensuing misfortunes for Joe are dramatic and devastating. Alan runs off with the money given to him to carry out the plan, Jeff Lowe turns out to be an informant for the Feds, and Joe learns that he will need to leave the park immediately as Jeff discovers some financial deceptions that he has been practicing. Among this, Joe also loses one of his husbands to an accidental suicide that his employees say changed the course of his life. Joe also was exposed to have been posting to social media suggesting details of this plot, which ultimately led to the end for Joe Exotic. Getting into the entirety of the details surrounding the ins and outs of this case would take hundreds of pages.
This is all summed up in a 10 part series that is well worth watching in an 11-hour, one sitting binge. I didn’t even touch on the third Tiger Owner profiled in the series; Doc Antel, who believes it or not even stranger than Joe or Carole. Along with multiple other characters that make this documentary super appealing, the subject matter alone is enough to make you question everything you know about Oklahoma, Love, and Tigers every 3 minutes during the episodes, and for the rest of your life afterward.
2. Ozark: Season 3
This is a bit of a deviation from the other series on this list, but it’s just too good not to include. If you’re not already familiar with the first two seasons of the Netflix Original Ozarks, it is my recommendation that you stop everything immediately and spend the next 48 hours finishing them. You can come back to this article when you’re done and thank me because this is the best show on Netflix by far.
Centered around a Financial Advisor named Marty Byrde that has gotten tangled up in business dealings with the Cartel. After his partner is exposed by the Cartel and their Boss Del, to be stealing money from the operation by adjusting the weight of the trucks coming in with the Cartel’s exports, he is forced to move his family to the Ozark Mountains of Missouri and begin laundering even more money for his partners. Without being able to keep the secret from their children, Marty and his wife Wendy are tasked with rallying their family around the new reality of their situation.
As one would expect, nothing goes according to plan for the Byrde’s as they begin their operations in the Ozarks. One after the other, Marty finds that the people closest to him are not always out for his best interests. Persistently through the show, he is let down by his employees and family in the highest-stakes situations that arise. Falling victim to the greed of a family of rednecks, the Langmores, Marty is forced to include members of the family in his operation – leaving him open to more problems down the road.
Ruth Langmore is the oldest of the Langmore children and muscles her way to a position as Marty’s assistant and go-to employee. She becomes more of both an ally and an enemy as the episodes and seasons progress leaving you to wonder where her intentions and loyalties lie. Along with multiple other antagonists that come along during the series, Marty is tasked with handling these liabilities as they become real problems and start to affect not only his business dealings – but also his family’s safety.
The tough decisions Marty is forced to make throughout the series set up a foundation for the third season to be extremely climactic. Every choice he makes comes back to influence him in some way or another. The third season ends with yet another new plotline that will leave you reeling and begging for the next season. Once you’ve gotten through with all three of the Ozark seasons, feel free to let me know how right I was.
3. Killer Inside: The mind of Aaron Hernadez
Aaron Hernandez is one of the most polarizing figures from the NFL in recent years. The star wide receiver from the New England Patriots provided years of high-octane entertainment on the Football field and generated an enormous fan base that stretched across the planet. He was promoted as a hero in the Latin Community and was an active and vocal supporter for underprivileged Hispanic Communities around the United States. Many viewed him as one of the only truly successful Hispanic Players and athletes of his time.
This Documentary series focuses on the later part of Hernandez’s life – from the time he was arrested on murder charges and when he ended his life in prison. The poignant series visits multiple serious and sensitive topics including that of Aaron’s sexuality. From the start of the series, you’re introduced to various figures from his past, including coaches, teammates, and friends. One of his seemingly closest friends reveals that he and Aaron had not only had a close friendship but also that they experimented with one another sexually and developed an intimate relationship with each other. This comes as a huge surprise in the Documentary and is followed up with multiple other sources expressing similar experiences and information about the subject. The Documentary series speculates that the potential breaking of this news was the driving factor of his suicide.
Beyond the seriousness of the charges brought against Hernandez, the series also spends time highlighting the extent of his athletic abilities. From early in his life, Hernandez was extremely gifted in multiple sports. Teammates and coaches reminisce about past games and experiences with him fondly and express their extreme shock and confusion upon hearing the news about his legal troubles.
Others in the series are more vocal about their distaste for Hernandez regarding these issues, many of them also being former coaches, friends, and teammates. A multitude of legal representatives including police, lawyers, and jury members are introduced as well and express the facts about the horrible crimes that he was accused of.
These parallel storylines make this a series extremely compelling and leave you wondering exactly where you stand in terms of Aaron Hernandez. He is accused of gang-related murders, traced back to his early college and professional careers in Football. While he was making money playing sports, he was also involved in criminal activity on the side, leading him to be involved in multiple shootings and killings. The criminal case against him is laid out in the series, giving you a deep look inside the charges brought against him. It also offers an intimate look at his final days and family relationships in Prison. He struggles to be available and strong for his family, often breaking down over the phone with his Wife on the line, wishing things could be different. It is often met with hard reality from his Wife, letting him know that her life is just as badly destroyed as his and that it was entirely due to his actions.
The end of the series highlights the legal situation that Hernandez was facing, as well as the financial troubles that his family now faced with him behind bars. Since he was playing for the Patriots up to the day before he was incarcerated, he still had a substantial amount of money left over on his contract. One of his final phone calls with his Wife detailed his plans to make sure that she would receive that money – no matter what. Some legal experts theorize that Hernandez took his own life in prison in an attempt to escape a legal verdict, and put pressure on the Patriots organization to honor his contract without being able to dismiss it due to legal issues. This turned out to be something that didn’t work out in this way at all.
The series is truly heartbreaking, but also strangely inspiring. The tools that Hernandez naturally possessed were incredible and were an inspiration to millions around the world. His meteoric rise to success and dedication to his community and those within Hispanic communities is a story that will keep you rooting for the underdogs. The same story does a very good job of conveying the dangers of having too much. In the same way that he rose from obscurity, he fell from grace just as dramatically. This serves as a potential warning to those interested in getting involved in criminal activity with the hopes of making money. Even those with more money than you could possibly need to fall victim to the same traps.
Watching this series, you’ll be left with a new perspective on what it means to be an athlete, a friend, a father, and a functioning member of society.
4. How to Fix a Drug Scandal
How to Fix a Drug Scandal is another tough watch, but incredibly interesting and thought-provoking. The series follows two Forensic Research Chemists, Sonya Farak and Annie Dookhan, that are focused primarily on drug testing and identification within a government-controlled laboratory. Throughout the Documentary, you are introduced to both Chemists and are told of the ways in which their criminal actions impacted the cases and lives of thousands of individuals.
Sonya Farak began her career as a Research Chemist after finding love with a friend and following her to a new town. After the relationship dissolved, she continued with her new career, eventually transferring to a lab in Amherst, Massachusetts. What no one realized during her 14-year career was that she was, in fact, a drug addict herself. With uninhibited access to Government Standards of substances like Cocaine, Methamphetamine, and LSD, she was able to feed her drug habit daily for years – going as far as to use drugs like LSD while in the Lab testing the drugs that would be used in criminal convictions.
All of this spiraled out of control for her when she was found to be using drugs at work, and not only stealing Government Standards but also evidence that was being brought in to her for testing. She constantly stole Cocaine from the evidence that was sent to her, eventually moving to make her own Crack from the evidence. She was actually making Crack from confiscated Cocaine in the Laboratory that she was working in. In. The. Lab! She was finally caught when investigators found out how incredibly blatant her actions actually were. They found not only open and used Cocaine and Crack evidence, but also an actual Crack Pipe that she had made with lab equipment to smoke at work. The whole saga of Sonya is unbelievable and ultimately leads to a harsh reality that the people she helped put in prison for years, may have in fact not had the types or amounts of drugs that Sonya was reporting. Resulting in multiple convictions of decade-long sentences – including one criminal who was picked up for Cocaine, and Sonya reported that it was in fact Heroin. This result was from the day that she was testing Cocaine samples in the lab, on a day that she had taken LSD at work in the lab, and was completely incoherent when performing the tests on the Cocaine samples, that all came up positive for Heroin. Truly heartbreaking to watch. The results of her years of bad testing and drug use at work led to the dismissal of nearly 24,000 convictions from around 16,000 different cases.
The other Chemist profiled in the series is Annie Dookhan. While the Documentary focuses much on the aspects of drug addiction when discussing Sonya Farak, the case against Annie Dookhan is much more sinister. The allegations against here had much wider-ranging and much more devastating impacts. It was estimated that her criminal actions affected up to 21,000 criminal cases that ended up being dismissed.
She was found to be working in close relations with Criminal Prosecutors, often promising results for substances that they would send in. She would often say over email that she would work as hard as she could to get the results that they were looking for. It’s chilling to watch as they go into many of the worst cases she affected, including many that had devastating criminal consequences for potentially innocent people. She also used her position to try to get dates with Prosecutors on numerous occasions. Included in this storyline is one of the strangest actions by Dookhan overall. She posed as other people to try to convince Prosecutors to give her a chance to be in a relationship. It’s extremely bizarre and pretty uncomfortable to watch because Dookhan seems unfazed by all of these actions and allegations.
This is an important watch because it goes to prove that without solid researchers, the accused in America are exposed to another form of injustice. The entire series you’ll be asking, ‘How does this possibly happen?’ By the end, you’ll be terrified to think of how easily these problems could come to exist, and that they may in fact already be happening all over the United States.