Documentary TV shows are nonfictional motion pictures intended to document some aspect of reality, primarily for the purposes of instruction, education, or maintaining a historical record. “Documentary” has been described as a “filmmaking practice, a cinematic tradition, and mode of audience reception” that is continually evolving and is without clear boundaries.
Here are the top 10 best documentary TV shows to watch right now.
Most tourists like to visit popular sites and attractions, like beaches, stadiums and museums, while on vacation. There is a subset of tourism, however, that involves visiting places that are historically associated with death and tragedy. Journalist David Farrier focuses on that area of travel, known as dark tourism, in this docuseries. In each episode, Farrier travels to a different locale to visit destinations and have experiences that wouldn’t be on most vacationers’ bucket lists. He embeds himself in a death-worshipping cult in Mexico, sees tourists soaking up radiation left behind in Fukushima, meets vampires in New Orleans, and travels to the most-nuked place on Earth for atomic swimming and fishing.
2. Planet Earth
Dazzling, state-of-the-art high-definition imagery highlights this breathtaking documentary series featuring footage of some of the world’s most awe-inspiring natural wonders – from the oceans to the deserts to the polar ice caps. This series will take you to the last wildernesses and show you the planet and its wildlife as you have never seen them before.
3. Dirty Money
There’s a cliche that says “the rich get richer,” and while that may be true it’s not always done through legal or moral methods. This docuseries takes a look at stories of scandal and corruption in business, exposing acts of corporate greed and corruption.The episodes feature firsthand accounts of the unscrupulous activities from the perspectives of both the perpetrators and their victims. Some of the tales that are told include a car company that cheats emissions tests to save money and the drama and shady deals that abound in Donald Trump’s business empire.
4. Making a Murderer
Exonerated after spending nearly two decades in prison for a crime he did not commit, Steven Avery filed suit against Manitowoc County, Wis., and several individuals involved with his arrest. Shortly after, however, Avery found himself behind bars again, this time accused of the murder of 25-year-old photographer Teresa Halbach. She was last seen on Avery’s property, where she was to photograph a vehicle. Avery and nephew Brendan Dassey were tried and convicted of the crime. But that’s not the end of the story. When Columbia graduate students Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos read about Avery, they felt his story would make an interesting documentary.
This series puts the spotlight on topical issues that impact people’s lives. The docuseries – which features episodes that generally range from 15 to 20 minutes in length – aims to dig deeper into topics, questions and ideas that aren’t often part of the daily news cycle. The show’s episodes focus on a different topic. Each episode is also voiced by a different guest narrator. Among the subjects covered are the rise of cryptocurrency, why diets fail, and the world of K-pop music.
6. Wild Wild Country
When a controversial guru builds a utopian city in the Oregon desert, it causes a massive conflict with local ranchers. This docuseries chronicles the conflict, which leads to the first bioterror attack in the United States and a massive case of illegal wiretapping. It is a pivotal, but largely forgotten, time in American cultural history that tested the country’s tolerance for the separation of church and state.
7. Chef's Table
Some of the most renowned chefs in the world share their deeply personal stories, inspirations, and unique styles. Each chef’s discipline and culinary talent is explored while he or she prepares an awe-inspiring creation. Each episode of the series profiles a single world-renowned chef.
8. Ugly Delicious
James Beard Award-winning chef David Chang stars in this travelogue that sends him on a journey to culinary hot spots around the world. He is joined by writers, activists, artists and other chefs who use food as a vehicle to break down cultural barriers and tackle misconceptions. Chang and his guests – a list that includes the likes of TV host Jimmy Kimmel, comic Nick Kroll and writer Peter Meehan – venture out of polished kitchens into the wider world to explore locales including Houston, Tokyo and Copenhagen.
People don’t always know where their food comes from, and sometimes there is a rotten underworld involved in food production. This series exposes the corruption, waste and real dangers behind everyday eating habits in a world where global supply chains are increasingly intertwined and consolidated. Episodes dig deep into the largest food fraud investigation – looking into a scam called Honeygate – and the challenges farmers and chefs face as the number of people with food allergies continues to rise.
10. The Keepers
This docuseries tackles the unsolved murder of Cathy Cesnik, a beloved nun and Catholic high school teacher in Baltimore. After disappearing on Nov. 7, 1969, Cesnik’s body was found nearly two months later – but to this day, the killer remains unnamed. In the ’90s, the case returned to the spotlight after one of Cesnik’s former students accused the high school’s chaplain of sexual abuse, and claims that she was taken to Cesnik’s then undiscovered corpse and threatened. Director Ryan White pieces together the story through conversations with friends, relatives, journalists, government officials and Baltimore citizens, hoping to uncover the truth.