Wondering what to watch this weekend? How about diving into a Netflix documentary? It’s one of the things the streaming service does best and headline-grabbing documentaries such as Making a Murderer, tiger-king and The Tinder Swindler have helped make Netflix the world’s most popular streaming service.
Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey is one of the Netflix documentary miniseries attracting headlines right now but if you’ve already seen that, fear not, there are new Netflix documentaries being added all the time. But which one to watch? We have a few suggestions.
These selections are based on the Netflix UK and US offering but if you’re stuck in a different territory and need to unlock your own country’s streaming selection, remember you can use a VPN (many of which offer a free trial). Now let’s get into those Netflix documentaries…
Web of Make Believe: Death, Lies & the Internet
This 2022 documentary series from acclaimed American filmmaker Brian Knappenberger concerns itself with the dark side of online life. The series explores consequences of gamers’ “SWATing”, takes a disturbing trip down the rabbit hole of white supremacy, joins a Federal hunt for the suspect of a brazen IRS heist and investigates a murder against the backdrop of Russian election interference.
As our online lives blend seamlessly with our lives in the outside world, it’s a fascinating if at times worrying look at how misinformation and bad actors from the internet can increasingly impact how we all live.
What if your child, wasn’t your child after all? And what if one of the people you trusted most to bring your child into the world was the one duping you all along? Our Father is another jaw-dropper from the Netflix school of crazy documentaries.
The story follows former Indianapolis based fertility doctor Donald Cline, who, in a case of fertility fraud, used his own sperm to impregnate dozens – and counting – of unsuspecting patients. The story shows how DNA testing sites slowly revealed the truth to unsuspecting people and families, and the true horror of what Cline had done over so many years. A tough story, well told, not least due to the powerful honesty of the many victim testimonies.
Jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy
Epic multi-part music documentaries being all the rage, Netflix’s four and a half-hour film Jeen-yuhs is a timely, fascinating, if troubling study of Kanye West that proves essential viewing, regardless of your opinion on his more recent, headline- grabbing behaviour.
Released in three parts, the first episode of Jeen-yuhs introduces us to West as an ambitious 21-year-old producer, prized (and occasionally taken advantage of) by other artists for his beats, but desperate to rap himself. While it now seems surreal to see West accosting PAs at the Roc-a-Fella Records offices, begging them to listen to future classics like All Falls Down, it’s easy to see why his endearing but frantic attempts to secure a record deal weren’t immediately successful. He does not sound like his contemporaries of him and, presciently large ego aside, he does not act like them either, constantly whipping in and out of his retainers to the disgust of the artists he’s trying to impress.
Directed by West’s longtime friend, Clarence ‘Coodie’ Simmons, who has been filming him since 2004, and Chike Ozah, Jeen-yuhs may not be wholly objective but it presents West as an artist with an empathetic frankness, and offers us a voyeuristic glimpse into his creative process and the early 2000’s hip-hop scene. The directors’ close relationship to their subject also produces some of the film’s most poignant moments, such as when West’s unreservedly devoted mother Donda, who died in 2007, reveals the tenacious bond between mother and son. It’s impossible to watch without feeling moved. Hated, adored, but never ignored, this Kanye West documentary is fascinating viewing.
The Tinder Swindler
Watch this true story, as told in just two hours by the victims of a carefully conceived dating app scam, and whatever happens this weekend you can sleep soundly in the knowledge that unwittingly buying the designer clothes, sports cars, Michelin-star meals, magnums of Cristal and first class flights your partner needs to snag their next squeeze isn’t on the agenda.
Assuming it’s a basic ‘why me?’ sob story from the mouths of three naive women who fell for the wrong guy would be a huge error: ‘diamond dealer’ Simon Leviev (of course that’s not his real name) has a story so water-tight, expertly-honed and aided by a dedicated cast of cohorts that even the most experienced and cynical of Tinder users falls foul of his advances.
Picture the scene: you’re sitting on a private jet, talking to Simon’s pleasant ex about what a supportive dad he is to the two-year-old on her knee. His bodyguard takes a picture of the two of you and says how nice it is that he’s finally met someone perfect for him. Later, he buys you a lovely meal, right after his important meeting with him. On a balcony in Barcelona, you Google him. You tell your friends to Google him! All confirm he’s legit, there he is with his parents – although naturally his father demands the family keep a low profile on social media, billionaire diamond dealers would.
He sends you home on a first class flight. It was all real. It’s just that somewhere, in another city, another woman is suffering… and soon it’ll be you. If you’ve ever watched The Serpentthe parallels are striking.
The Defiant Ones
The Defiant Ones is a four-part series that charts the partnership between Interscope Records co-founder Jimmy Iovine and rapper and record producer Dr. Dre. As much as being a music documentary, it’s a story of entrepreneurship and how an artform helped build an empire for two pioneering individuals.
Not only are there hours of fascinating interviews with all the main players in the story but plenty of archive film footage of two masters at work. It’s clear that both know a great track when they hear one and also how to get ahead in the cutthroat world of the music business (and later in consumer tech). But of course, as is so often the case, it also shows two people who are utterly driven to be successful.
Thankfully, Dre and Iovine provide articulate and interesting interviewees, modest and self-aware (even as multi-millionaires sat in their luxurious homes) and with enough crazy tales from life and business that could have filled many documentaries. Sit back, relax, be impressed, entertained and inspired.
Here’s an old one but, we think, perhaps with Making a Murdererthe best documentary on Netflix, and one of the first true crime documentaries that kick-started the genre.
Originally broadcast way back in 2005 and based on true events occurring in Durham, North Carolina in 2001, The Staircase was the brainchild of Jean-Xavier de Lestrade. Thanks to his work documenting the events of the trial and its aftermath, a new genre in TV – one that became known as a true crime series – was born.
The death of wealthy business executive Kathleen Peterson, at the bottom of the staircase in the family mansion, is the start of the series. How she came to die at the bottom of the staircase is what everyone’s trying to find out, but her writer husband is quickly believed to have been involved – an accusation he rigorously denies. It is hard to write much about The Staircase without including spoilers, so we’ll stop there. Sufficient to say it will keep you guessing right until the very end. Did he? Didn’t I? And therein lies the question driving a thousand copycat true crime docs. But remember, The Staircase came first.
Want more? Check out our round-up of the best music-related documentaries, films and TV shows on Netflix.