Last Updated: January 17th
There’s nothing better than finding a good documentary on Netflix, but sometimes you’re craving a little more depth than the average two-hour film can give. Enter the documentary series, a slightly lesser known category that will help entertain and educate you through the day and into the night. Let’s take a tour through some of the best documentary series on Netflix to get you started.
Surviving R. Kelly
1 season, 6 episodes | IMDb: 7.6/10
Lifetime aired this chilling docuseries earlier this year, revisiting allegations of abuse made by several women against the R&B star known as R. Kelly. The show details Kelly’s rise to fame, his own abusive past, and how he carefully cultivated an inner circle that helped him to prey on young women, from high-school-aged fans to fellow artists like the late Aliyah. The show also follows Kelly’s current legal troubles, allegations that he’s operating a sex cult filled with underage girls, and hears testimony from Kelly’s victims, who hope he’ll see justice one day.
Making A Murderer
2 seasons, 20 episodes | IMDb: 8.7/10
This is one of Netflix’s most popular documentary series, and you’ll understand why after one episode. The show follows the case of Steven Avery and his nephew Brendan Dassey, who were arrested for the murder of photographer Teresa Halbach. But what initially appears to be a clear-cut case becomes much more questionable once filmmakers Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi take you inside a system that seems designed to generate guilty verdicts rather than discover the truth.
Wild Wild Country
1 season, 6 episodes | IMDb: 8.3/10
This series from Netflix has inspired plenty of parodies since it’s release — SNL did a particularly good one here — but the subject matter of the show is decidedly less funny. The documentary paints a portrait of controversial Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (Osho) who became something of a God to his many followers in the 70s. Along with help from his assistant, Ma Anand Sheela, he created a community of his followers in Oregon in the early 80s, causing a scandal, one the included a mass poisoning and an assassination attempt on a U.S attorney.
1 season, 8 episodes | IMDb: 8.4/10
CNN’s ongoing decades-based documentary series provides a “remember when” account of all the major beats across US history from 1960 up to 2000. Executive produced by Tom Hanks, the series ties together reels of archival footage with interviews from scholars, celebrities, and the people who were there to give you a solid glimpse into the mindsets and emotions of the times, if not the most in-depth information on any singular topic. Episodes touch on cultural zeitgeists like the battle of the sexes or specific moments like the Watergate break-in.
Ken Burns: The Civil War
1 season, 9 episodes | IMDb: 9.1/10
Ken Burns is a prolific documentary maker whose style of storytelling set the standard for decades to come. 1990’s The Civil War was his first series and tied together over 16,000 archival photos from the 1860s with first-hand accounts taken from the letters of those leading the country right down to the soldiers who fought and died on the battlefield. Those that love the Ken Burns signature style displayed here will undoubtedly enjoy his other documentary series currently on Netflix like Prohibition, The War (on World War II), The West, and The Roosevelts.
Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes
1 season, 4 episodes | IMDb: 7.9/10
Ted Bundy is one of the most infamous serial killers in American history, so you’d think we’d know the whole of this sociopath’s exploits by now, but this docuseries manages to find a new angle on the story of Bundy’s descent into madness. Through confessional recordings, victims’ testimonies, and investigative reporting, the short series charts how Bundy, a handsome, educated white man, was able to deceive so many for so long, murdering young women along the way. What’s even more interesting about this series is that, while the show explores how Bundy’s crimes made him an idol for some, it also does justice by his victims, detailing their backstories and interviewing their surviving family members.
Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On
1 season, 6 episodes | IMDb: 6.7/10
This documentary series is the sequel to the 2015 documentary movie Hot Girls Wanted and investigates the rapidly expanding world of pornography in the age of the internet. From cam girls to quirky independent erotica producers to full-on porn stars, Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On explores several different facets of the industry. While the series doesn’t overtly judge its subjects, it also doesn’t shy away from asking the difficult moral questions or addressing the effects pornography has on both the people making and consuming it.
Last Chance U
4 seasons, 23 episodes | IMDb: 8.5/10
Last Chance U is a fascinating look at the world of college football and the young men trying to make it through into the NFL. The series focuses on East Mississippi Community College (EMCC), known both for pumping out future stars and as a place where players with bad grades or bad behavior can get a “last chance” at pulling things together and making something of themselves in the world of sports. Even those who have no interest in football should still enjoy the individual stories told in this documentary series, which range from triumphant to heartbreaking.
1 season, 7 episodes | IMDb: 8.2/10
The Keepers is another true crime original from Netflix in the vein of Making A Murderer. Focused initially on the murder of Catholic high school teacher Sister Cathy Cesnik, the series takes viewers down a shockingly dark path into a world of sexual abuse perpetrated by those running Archbishop Keough High School in the 1960s and other members high up in the community. The Keepers paints a stark picture of a system that’s allowed powerful men to get away with horrible crimes against women — who were systematically ignored and overlooked when they attempted to get justice.
1 season, 11 episodes | IMDb: 9.4/10
This award-winning nature documentary series from David Attenborough and the BBC is probably responsible for selling more high definition televisions than any other program. Beautifully shot in the most remote corners of the globe, you won’t find a more breathtaking and awe-inspiring collection of footage out there… unless watch Planet Earth 2, which unfortunately isn’t on Netflix at this time. Here’s some good news, though: after you work your way through this 11 episode series, you can follow it up with other series from Attenborough and the BBC on Netflix like The Blue Planet, Africa, and Life.
1 season, 4 episodes | IMDb: 7.7/10
There’s plenty of true crime docs on Netflix right now but Evil Genius stands out amongst a crowded landscape. Part of that is thanks to the sheer incredulity of real-life events — the show explores an infamous bank heist carried out by a young boy with a bomb strapped to his chest — and part of that is thanks to director Trey Borzillieri, who manages to get to the meat of why a group of criminals would commit such a brazen crime.
2 seasons, 26 episodes | IMDb: 7.9/10
Ezra Klein’s popular Vox Youtube show has made the jump to Netflix with 20 new episodes that seek to educate and inform on some of the most misunderstood, taboo subject of society. The installments, which run anywhere from 14 to 20 minutes in length, are narrated by guest hosts like Nick Kroll, Kristen Bell, Rachel Bloom, and Rachel McAdams and they cover everything from the female orgasm to K-Pop, the wage gap, weed, and esports.
Shot In The Dark
1 season, 8 episodes | IMDb: 8.1/10
Fans of the Jake Gyllenhaal movie Nightcrawler might be interested in this documentary series that follows around three rival ‘stringer’ crews in Los Angeles as they scour the police scanners for accidents and crimes they can potentially sell footage of to local news channels. As unusual and interesting as the subject matter is, it’s the characters and their often contentious relationships with each other that will keep you binge watching. Be warned, though: the show features lots of carnage and the exploitative nature of the stringer business may leave you feeling a bit sleazy for even watching.
1 season, 3 episodes | IMDb: 7/10
With all the dramas on Netflix about the drug trade, it’s only fair that there’s a documentary series on cocaine out there as well. Each episode of this series gives you a different look at cocaine’s effects, and of course, none of them are very good. From the Peruvian farmers who provide drug manufacturers with the coca leaves to the drug enforcers who live and die in Rio de Janeiro, there are few happy endings here. The final episode of the series pulls back to show how the drug trade has destabilized the entire country of Colombia, leaving it on the verge of constant civil war.
6 seasons, 34 episodes | IMDb: 8.7/10
Created by the director of Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Chef’s Table takes viewers to restaurants around the world to expose them to great food and the great chefs that create it. As with Jiro, the personalities are just as important if not more than the meals on display. Each episode opens the door and tells the life story of a different person, from Michelin star chefs to up and comers struggling to gain visibility. The series is equal part travel, food, and exposé that you don’t need to be particularly into cooking to enjoy. After all the gimmicky competitions on TV, Chef’s Table (and the sequel, Chef’s Table: France) is a refreshing and relaxing change of pace.