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The best true-crime shows

You might have had your fill of true crime docuseries like Making a Murderer, Don’t F*** With Cats, Tiger King, and the multitude of options about everyone from serial killers like Ted Bundy to musicians like R. Kelly and Michael Jackson. What do you watch next?

If true crime is your jam, there are many series of the genre that aren’t documentary-style. Instead, they take fascinating stories and have actors play real people, sometimes totally true-to-life and other times fictionalized or embellished for dramatic effect.

Looking for something more like that? Here are some of the best true crime shows you can watch that are based on real events but aren’t docuseries. When you’re finished with these, check out stomach-turning true-crime docuseries you can stream.


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This crime thriller tells the true story of how the term “serial killer” was coined by two men in the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit. Set in the late ’70s and based on the true-crime book Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit by John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker, the story is based on FBI agents Holden Ford and Bill Tench from the Behavioral Science Unit of the FBI who teamed up with psychologist Wendy Carr to try to understand the mind of repeat killers. The show takes some creative liberties, but what’s most fascinating is that many of the interviews the pair have with serial killers on the series (played by eerily convincing actors) are taken from actual transcripts with the real-life killers, with every gory and heinous detail included for dramatic effect.




This miniseries doesn’t come after a movie or a book based on real events like many others on this list do. Rather, it was inspired by a single news article from 2015 entitled “An Unbelievable Story of Rape” written by T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong about a teenager who was charged with lying about being raped. It includes dramatizations of the trial, which took place from 2008 to 2011, and follows the two detectives as they try to discover the truth about what really happened. It stars Toni Collette and Merritt Wever and has been met with almost universal acclaim.


When They See Us

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Receiving plenty of accolades when it debuted in 2019, including 11 Primetime Emmy nominations and a win for Jharrel Jerome for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie, this miniseries looks at the 1989 Central Park jogger case and the five male suspects who were falsely accused of the woman’s rape and attack. One of the most incredible and heartbreaking stories of wrongful convictions involving not one, but multiple men, the story is based on events from 1989, but the saga continued well into the ’10s. When you’re done watching, check out Oprah Winfrey’s companion special, Oprah Winfrey Presents When They See Us Now.


Dirty John

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From 2018, this series is based on the podcast by Christopher Goffard about the story of John Meehan, aka Dirty John. There are eight episodes in its first season with plans to return for a second on June 2, 2020. Connie Britton stars as Debra, the woman who fell in love with and eventually married John (Eric Bana), a con man who deceived women, scammed people, and was considered a “hustler,” even called “evil” by some. While this story focuses on Meehan’s relationship with Debra, it will entice you to research more about this abusive, menacing man and the other women he hurt before her.


The Act

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Patricia Arquette won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series, and Joey King was nominated for her leading role in this true-crime drama. Arquette played Dee Dee Blanchard, who suffered from Munchausen syndrome by proxy and would fabricate illnesses and disabilities that her daughter presumably had. Her daughter Gypsy Rose Blanchard (King) ended up having her mother killed in a sordid tale that makes you sympathize with a murderer. It also sheds light on how serious and real this condition is.


American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson

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The first edition of this ongoing anthology true-crime series proved that Ryan Murphy was on to something. Lauded for its accurate portrayal of the O.J. Simpson trial and the events that surrounded it, it told the story from a very different perspective. Sarah Paulson played real-life lawyer Marcia Clark in a way that made you sympathize with her rather than lay blame for the controversial trial that famously saw Simpson acquitted of murder. Amazing performances from the cast, including Paulson along with Sterling K. Brown, Cuba Gooding Jr., David Schwimmer, John Travolta, and Courtney B. Vance, helped the series earn 13 Emmy nominations and take home nine wins. Even if you know everything there is to know about the O.J. Simpson case, this series provides a look at what went down from a completely different, eye-opening lens without the media hoopla surrounding it.


American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace

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The second season of this crime anthology series was based on the life and death of fashion designer Gianni Versace, who was murdered on his doorstep by a delusional killer named Andrew Cunanan. The story is loosely based on the real events though the characters featured are very real, with a stellar cast playing them. Darren Criss played Cunanan and earned an Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie Emmy win for the role. He was joined in the cast by Edgar Ramirez (Versace), Ricky Martin (Versace’s husband Antonio D’Amico), and Penelope Cruz (Donatella Versace). The series won Outstanding Limited Series in 2018 and it’s a must-watch, even if there’s some debate over how true some of the events were.


In Pursuit with John Walsh

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Unlike others on this list, this series is framed as more of a news program. It stars John Walsh, famous from his popular show America’s Most Wanted, now joined by his son Callahan. Together, they investigate unsolved crime cases, trying to bring the perpetrators to justice and closure to the families by urging the public to call in with tips if they know anything or have spotted a criminal on the run. While they include interviews with real victims’ family members and photos of the actual people involved, there are also dramatic re-enactments of the crimes by actors, for demonstrative purposes and typically with voiceover narration. If you have been missing America’s Most Wanted, which aired from 1988 to 2012, check this one out.

Investigation Discovery

Appropriate Adult

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This British crime drama aired on ITV in two parts in 2011. The story follows serial killer Fred West and his wife Rosemary, who terrorized Gloucester in the early ’90s. The title refers to the English law term that describes someone who is of sound mind and age who can speak for another person, like a parent, guardian, or social worker. In West’s case, this is a woman named Janet Leach, who serves in the role of appropriate adult during police interviews with children or vulnerable adults, like West. Real-life West family members and families of the victims have spoken positively about the series, and it’s no wonder given the talented cast that includes Dominic West, Emily Watson, and Monica Dolan.

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Christine Persaud
Christine has decades of experience in trade and consumer journalism. While she started her career writing exclusively about…
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