I won’t beat around the bush here — you can stream some of television’s best documentaries and docuseries on Showtime right now. Premium outlets like HBO and streaming services like Netflix often get most of the attention in this regard (and for good reason), but the quality and variety of Showtime’s documentary section has it standing toe-to-toe with the competition.
As someone who admittedly spends a lot of their free time watching random documentaries, I am beyond impressed with a lot of what I have found on Showtime, whether it’s a four-part series about UFO sightings, introspective stories about musicians and their personal demons, or various true crime documentaries. All that being said, here are 12 titles you should definitely check out.
The intrigue surrounding UFOs has reached new levels in recent years, especially after a treasure trove of documents was declassified by the U.S. government and the shocking report from the New York Times about a clandestine program at the Pentagon that has been tracking sightings for years. The 2021 Showtime docuseries UFO does a tremendous job of diving into stories that have popped up in those reports and interviewing those who witnessed unexplained events for themselves.
Unlike a lot of documentaries of this variety that approach the subject with a heightened sense of sensationalism, UFO is more grounded and slightly less conspiratorial than most. However, this is not to say the docuseries shies away from government cover-ups, like the “Phoenix Lights” incident in 1997 or the alleged sighting by a team of Navy pilots in 2004.
Gringo: The Dangerous Life Of John McAfee (2016)
For someone who made their fortune developing and selling anti-virus software, John McAfee’s life is one of the craziest stories you will ever hear, so much so that a lot of it is hard to believe — it’s that bizarre. The 2016 Showtime documentary Gringo: The Dangerous Life of John McAfee explores how the multi-millionaire went from one of the leading names in the tech industry to an off-the-grid drug lord living in Belize, who becomes implicated in a murder.
I should note that this documentary does not touch on John McAfee’s 2021 death, but it does include a great deal of information about the tech pioneer’s fall from grace and descent into a life of crime and shady happenings.
Whitney: Can I Be Me (2017)
The 2017 documentary Whitney: Can I Be Me is one those documentaries that finds the perfect balance in terms of telling a singer’s life story. Nick Broomfield and Rudi Dolezal’s portrait of the late Whitney Houston is at times unbelievably uplifting while at others downright sad. By stitching together interviews with Houston, her family, friends, and contemporaries with rare footage of the electric performer on stage and off, you get what feels like a damn near complete picture of her life.
As the title suggests, Whitney: Can I Be Me spends a great deal of time focusing on the struggle the singer faced throughout her life, and that is wanting to be in control.
This American Life (2007 - 2009)
Since making its debut on WBEZ Chicago (carried nationally on NPR) in November 1995, the radio essay and story show This American Life has aired more than 700 episodes that have featured stories ranging from neighborhood disputes to recounting of some of history’s most trying moments. And for a brief stretch of time in the early 2000s, a television adaptation of the beloved program ran on Showtime.
Featuring the same basic setup and host (Hello, Ira Glass) as its radio counterpart, This American Life consisted of 12 episodes split up between two seasons and served as a great companion piece to the weekly audio show. And even though it never returned for more episodes following the Season 2 finale in May 2009, the series remains one of the best hidden gems on Showtime.
No matter what you are told, everyone, and I mean everyone, loves juicy gossip (at least some of us will admit it). If this were not the case, then why would there be so many tabloids taking up valuable real estate at grocery store checkout lanes and practically every corner of the internet? The 2021 four-part Showtime docuseries Gossip (which was created by This American Life’s Ira Glass) dives headfirst into society’s obsession with tabloids and how people like media mogul Rupert Murdoch and columnist Cindy Adams take advantage of that.
Chances are you will experience every type of emotion possible while going on this wild and crazy journey through the history of the tabloid industry, but it’s just so much fun, even if it makes you feel just a tad bit more cynical in the end.
For a short amount of time in the early 2000s, Amy Winehouse was one of the most popular and talented vocalists in the music industry, who enchanted millions of people around the world with hits like “Back To Back” and “Rehab.” Tragically, Winehouse died of alcohol poisoning in 2011 when she was just 27 years old, leaving behind millions of mourning fans and a void in the industry. The late singer’s story (both on and off the stage) is captured in the 2015 documentary, Amy, through rare or never-before-seen footage of the R&B/soul/jazz vocalist.
Murder In The Bayou (2019)
You didn’t think we would get too far without including a multi-episode true crime docuseries on this list, right? The 2019 five-part documentary Murder in the Bayou, which is based on Ethan Brown’s 2005 book of the same name, centers on the unsolved murders of eight women in the town of Jennings, Louisiana. Throughout the series you meet and hear the stories of those eight women, whose bodies were found in the drainage canals and back roads of rural Louisiana, not in the early 20th century, but the early 2000s.
In what plays like a real-life True Detective, Murder in the Bayou explores just why a case like this, one with so many horrific crimes, can remain unsolved for so long.
Dark Net (2016 - 2017)
When I first heard about Dark Net I assumed it would just be another docuseries exploring the motivations and desires of those who use the anonymous, seedy underbelly of the internet to secure illicit drugs, pornography, and to fulfill other illegal requests without ever having to leave their home. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of that is featured throughout the Showtime series’ two-season run. But, there’s so much more, and oddly enough, much more interesting material.
With episodes that focus on people who got trapped in cults, stories about activists using technology to investigate shady police officers, and a woman who programmed her dead friend into a chatbot, the show covers the whole gamut of tech stories, and they are fascinating to say the least.
Detainee 001 (2021)
He may be forgotten by most now, but John Walker Lindh, better known as “The American Taliban” was one of the biggest stories that came out of the early days of the United States' invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001. Greg Barker’s 2021 documentary Detainee 001 explores Lindh’s story, how it became involved with terrorism, how he was captured, what can be learned from his radicalization.
Through never-before-seen interrogations of one of the most notable figures of the early days of America’s longest war, you are taken back to the fear and uncertainty of the turn of the 21st Century and how the period forever changed not only the country but the world as a whole.
Supervillain: The Making Of Tekashi 6ix9ine (2021)
There are few hip-hop artists as controversial as Tekashi 6ix9ine. The 2021 three-part documentary Supervillain: The Making of Tekashi 6ix9ine, directed by Karam Gill, explores how Daniel Hernandez went from a relatively unknown rapper from New York City to one of the most peculiar and divisive celebrities.
Through various ups and downs of his young career, including multiple run-ins with the law and one that landed him in prison, the documentary explores how the rapper’s upbringing, environment, and masterful use and understanding of social media’s true power helped make him into one of the most talked about names in pop culture.
There used to be a time when betting on sports was something that everyone knew happened, but no one really wanted to talk about it unless you were in Las Vegas or betting on a big horse race like the Kentucky Derby. Thanks to the internet (and easing of restrictions), the sports betting industry has taken off and experienced exponential growth in recent years, so much so that it’s part of broadcasts on practically every channel.
The 2019 four-part documentary series, Action, explores how sports betting moved away from the smoke-filled sports books of casinos and became available to just about everyone with a phone or internet connection, and how that shift affects not only betting but sports in general.
The Reagans (2020)
Ronald Reagan, for one reason or another, will forever go down as one of the most consequential presidents in United States history, and the 2020 Showtime docuseries, The Reagans, goes into great detail as to how that happened. By exploring Reagan’s life from his time in Hollywood through his rise in the political system, the documentary uncovers his motivations and desires, as well as those of his wife, Nancy Reagan.
A lot of The Reagans focuses on the former first lady and the impact she had not only on her husband and his closest friends, but the advisers at his side and the media that covered his every step. Large sections of the documentary shed light on how Nancy Reagan became such a large driving force in her husband’s political career from his early days as the Governor of California all the way to his two-terms as President of the United States.
Showtime is adding more and more documentaries and docuseries all the time, so make sure to take a look at CinemaBlend’s 2021 Fall TV schedule to see what additions are coming your way.
Philip grew up in Louisiana (not New Orleans) before moving to St. Louis after graduating from Louisiana State University-Shreveport. When he's not writing about movies or television, Philip can be found being chased by his three kids, telling his dogs to stop yelling at the mailman, or yelling about professional wrestling to his wife. If the stars properly align, he will talk about For Love Of The Game being the best baseball movie of all time.
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