So I have recently been on a True Crime kick, which is great for me, but terrible for having things to write about for the blog. I have only ever done an Impressions on one True Crime related thing because I feel like it’s a difficult subject to cover. Covering a True Crime documentary without actually going into the ins and outs of what I think is tricky, and I am not sure that I am really qualified to give my opinion on the crimes themselves on this blog. That being said I thought for a change I might put together a list of True Crime (and related) stuff that I personally enjoy.
You will notice a distinct absence of a certain media type, books. I honestly have not actually read that many True Crime books, and I couldn’t really tell you why. It is a glaring problem and one I hope to rectify. I also did not include everything, the point was to narrow down to a few highlights that covered different media types. If you have recommendations, please comment, but know I am aware some good stuff was left off in the narrowing down process. (Hell, a second article might happen someday because there is a lot of great things out there)
Also, yes, I know I haven’t done anything really out there. Most True Crime fans will likely say “yeah, but do you have anything new,” but these are some of my personal favorites. Who knows, maybe there will be something you’ve never watched/listened to before. Hell, maybe someone that is not sure about True Crime might find a suggestion.
So without further ado.
My Favorite Murder
So let’s get this out of the way because it is one of the most popular True Crime podcasts out there and a lot of people reading this are probably like, “yeah, we know thanks.” MFM is a comedy True Crime podcast and man do they manage to find that balance, and it is not easy. Given the nature of the subject, it is incredibly easy to get labeled as disrespectful and/or inappropriate if you try to bring comedy to it. The key here is what they joke about and what they don’t. It is honestly one of my go-to True Crime anything if for no other reason than it manages to make me feel not as awful when I finish than others. The niche of True Crime meets comedy is one these women have dominated, and I would highly recommend this podcast.
So Zodiac is clearly a work of fiction, it’s also pretty old… so why include it? Well because for what it is it’s pretty much the best. David Fincher put a lot of work into making this movie not only entertaining for the audience but as close to the truth as he could. Now truth is distorted with time, but the movie is detail heavy and really wanted to nail accuracy. Ever wonder why Mark Ruffalo’s character is obsessed with animal crackers? Because David Toschi was apparently himself. Fincher put work into trying to recreate as much as he could and honor the characters and the experience where possible. The sad part of this is that as we see this case destroying the lives of several people, we are left with the knowledge that this happened to real people.
It is worth noting that while going for accuracy Fincher and Vanderbilt did want this movie to be about Robert Graysmith (mostly) and Graysmith is pretty heavily devoted to his theory about who Zodiac was. Despite evidence seemingly clearing Graysmith’s top pick, he stands by it, and so does the movie to an extent. You can say this is a knock to the attempts at accuracy, but I would argue that almost everything in True Crime is done with a perspective.
Generation Why is a podcast I frequently listen to, especially when I am looking for something that is heavily informative. The episodes are well researched, they go into great detail on the cases, choose a variety to cover, and the hosts are great to listen to. Often times when I hear of cases and see something about them from other sources I instantly jump to finding out if Generation Why has also done an episode, as I know I will get information from them that might be lacking other places. This level of research is something I appreciate.
Generation Why can be upsetting, however. The hosts will try to lighten the mood a little, but they aren’t a comedy podcast like MFM, they are True Crime. More than once I have finished an episode and had a heavy feeling in my gut, but True Crime is supposed to do that, it’s not a fun subject. I’m never upset by the way it’s delivered, they do a great job at that, but the subject matter. I don’t binge listen to Generation Why like I can lighter podcasts, but I am never disappointed when I tune in.
The Killing Season
The Killing Season is an interesting documentary series because it does what Joshua Zeman and Rachel Mills have done before. They start with one focus and then start to follow beyond just what we know and explore what it means in different ways. In Cropsey, they attempted to discuss the idea of a local Urban Legend and its ties to an actual killer. In The Killing Season, they start with the crimes of one (possibly two) serial killers and then go from there to discuss the insane problem we have in this country with active serial killers and how little we are doing about it based on the victims (primarily sex workers). I like this about them. What I don’t like is that each new crime/series of crimes they move to does not get enough coverage.
I was particularly interested in the New Mexico episode but then felt disappointed to see how many doors they opened but did not explore fully. It’s a problem with the entire series, not just that one episode. They open up the viewer to a lot of questions and crimes that we aren’t aware of but then don’t explore it deeply enough, in my opinion. In all honesty, The Killing Season just with what they cover could probably have been twice as long and still felt lacking. Not because they didn’t do the work (they did) but because they are attempting to cover so much in such a short time.
I still like the series, but I hope that if Joshua and Rachel team up again it’s for a more extended project.
I am including the whole series even though not all of the episodes are True Crime, it’s a documentary series that covers a wide range of subjects, True Crime being among them. Still, it is a consistently good series with a few True Crime episodes to pick from. If you have Netflix (US), you can currently stream both Oklahoma City and Ruby Ridge, which would be two that I would highly recommend.
The Oklahoma City episode was especially interesting for me because I was at an odd age when it happened. I was old enough that my parents would watch the news around me, and I have vague memories of this occurring, but I was young enough that it didn’t entirely sink in what was happening. The episode really looks into McVeigh, and also rightfully discusses how the problems at Ruby Ridge and Waco impacted this.
The Ruby Ridge episode I liked because I was fairly ignorant about the details. I knew some basics and that it is pretty universally considered a failed operation. They also interview one of Weaver’s children, which hearing her perspective on things was at times frustrating but compelling.
Both of these episodes (and others I have seen) attempt to strike a pretty tricky balance, between explaining the motivation for people involved without justifying the actions. I think some episodes are more successful than others, but again a consistently good series.
More fiction and more Fincher (although this time as a producer)! Much like Zodiac where Mindhunter shines and will appeal to True Crime lovers, even though it’s fiction, is its efforts to be accurate. Now it’s not nearly as focused on detail as Zodiac was, hell characters are changed to some extremes, but it does bring enough accuracy with the important bits that changes for entertainment can be forgiven. Mindhunter features many killers and does a compelling job of breaking down the idea of how much of an impact hunting and interacting with killers would have on these people. The fact that the Mindhunter book was such a strong influence on the show’s development clearly helped and made Mindhunter stand out. The second season should be coming, and I can’t wait.
Buzzfeed Unsolved: True Crime
Once again discussing that niche of True Crime meets comedy. Unsolved also manages to bring a comedic flare to a difficult subject and does it in a respectful way. Over the seasons the show has grown and has gotten much better with age. The early episodes are often lacking in details, to the point that they have even revisited some subjects. More research has gone into the episodes, and it helps a lot. I also enjoy that they cover a wide range of subjects. I greatly enjoy Unsolved, which is why it disappoints me that there are so few episodes. The same duo that does this does several other shows for Buzzfeed leading to short episodes and few of them per season. Still worth checking out if you haven’t yet.
Murder with Friends
I debated including this or not for two reasons. 1) The show is not currently active, nor do I know if it ever will be again. 2) The network that used to host it let go of many of the people involved, so it’s a bit hinky. Leaving all that aside Murder with Friends was a TYT show/podcast that did an in-depth look at crime (and related things) throughout history. Typically it would be the host and one guest giving a break down of a crime. They had short “campfire episodes” where multiple guests would do shorter bits about various subjects. I liked the variety of guests and cases covered on murder with friends. The ever-changing guests does mean that there is some inconsistency is episode quality, but overall it was a well-done show and introduced me to cases and things I hadn’t heard of before. TYT members still have access to some of the episodes while most of them are still on Youtube (but divided into separate parts).
I don’t want to get into why TYT made programming shifts, it was a while ago and not for me to comment on as an outsider. I will say that I miss the show, and I hope that Grace can find a way to bring it back. She does still talk True Crime (from what I know) in other ways, but the format of the show was well done so I would love to see it revived. In the meantime, you might want to check it out.