Inspired by the story of fake German heiress Anna "Delvey" Sorokin, Inventing Anna, by all accounts, should've been great: TV titan Shonda Rhimes was behind the Netflix series and Ozark's scene-stealing Julia Garner would play the titular character. So, how did we wind up with a boring, surface-level mess? It's tough to say, but the reality is, Inventing Anna is the least exciting true-crime drama of 2022 thus far.
The idea that a TV show based on a real-life murder could be funny is off-putting at best, and downright offensive at worst—putting The Thing About Pam in a difficult position. The NBC series certainly isn't a comedy, but it does offer several slapstick moments while telling the story of the 2011 murder of Betsy Faria, which set off a wild chain of events involving Pam Hupp (including another murder). Ultimately, The Thing About Pam might not be a show worth seeking out, but should you happen upon it with some time to kill, you'll likely be entertained.
Hulu's Candy is based on the real-life Candy Montgomery (played by Jessica Biel), a Texas housewife accused of killing her best friend, Betty Gore (played by Melanie Lynskey), in 1980. The show isn't a dramatic whodunnit—far from it, actually—but still manages to hold your attention the entire time. The two actresses are perfectly cast—Lynskey so much so that you might be left wishing she had more screentime—and the stark contrast between their characters makes for an entertaining, at times even campy, watch.
The Dropout may be the first dramatization of the rise and fall of Theranos, but it certainly won't be the last. Chronicling Elizabeth Holmes' attempts to revolutionize the healthcare industry, the Hulu series is a fascinating tale of ambition gone wrong, corporate greed and the wild world of Silicon Valley. Sure, it feels drawn out at times, but Amanda Seyfried is so compelling as Holmes that any monotony is worth it. Her awkward dancing to Lil Wayne's "How to Love" is enough evidence that she's well overdue for an Emmy.
True crime as a genre is inescapably morbid, but the case at the center of The Girl From Plainville is particularly dark for several reasons—some of which the average person would likely be oblivious to before watching, as the series is an incredibly nuanced look at Michelle Carter's "texting-suicide" scandal, which has largely been sensationalized over the years. It would've been easy for showrunners Patrick Macmanus and Liz Hannah to feed into that, but instead, they crafted an emotionally gripping exploration of Michelle's relationship with Conrad Roy III and the events leading up to his death. Elle Fanning and Colton Ryan's incredible respective depictions of Michelle and Conrad make The Girl From Plainville that more captivating.
At the center of Under the Banner of Heaven—adapted from Jon Krakauer's bestselling book of the same name—is the real-life murder of a young woman, Brenda, and her infant daughter, Erica. But beyond the tragic events that befell the pair in 1984 is a complicated web of violence and religious extremism, specifically pertaining to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Mormon fundamentalism. Tasked with untangling this web on the FX series is the fictional detective Jeb Pyre (played by Andrew Garfield), who, so far, has done an impressive job of shouldering the show's emotional weight, as Jeb's a Mormon himself.
Under the Banner of Heaven as a whole is a masterclass in storytelling. There's no easy way to interrogate a centuries-old religion, and while the show can be unnecessarily complex at times, it manages to chronicle the descent from mainstream Mormonism to fanatical fundamentalism while also interweaving the history of LDS founder Joseph Smith, his wife Emma, and the competing prophet Brigham Young quite seamlessly.
Suffice to say, Under the Banner of Heaven is well worth the watch. It's an incredibly thought-provoking and suspenseful show, sure to entertain anyone with even the slightest affinity for true crime.
Several of the true-crime dramas in contention offer a never-before-seen look at events that have transpired in recent years, while The Staircase is simply a rehashing of an already-extensive docuseries—at least, that's what you'd think before actually watching HBO Max's new iteration. In reality, showrunner Antonio Campos has crafted a fresh, invigorating take on the decades-old saga of Michael Peterson—who was accused of killing his wife, Kathleen, after she was found dead at the bottom of their staircase in 2001—perfectly intertwining the past and present as well as multiple perspectives.
The Staircase's ensemble cast only adds to Campos' and Maggie Cohn's compelling screenplay, with Colin Firth and Toni Collette leading the charge as Michael and Kathleen, respectively. Firth has Michael's mannerisms, inflection and cadence down pat, so much so that the performance—which is certainly worthy of an Emmy—is uncannily creepy. Collette delivers an equally impressive portrayal, something that couldn't have been easy to do as there's much less known about Kathleen—whose death has always overshadowed her life—ultimately giving viewers a sense of the loving mother and successful career-woman she was.
Just don't go into The Staircase expecting to be convinced of Michael Peterson's guilt or innocence (he's currently 78 and remains a free man). The series is more focused on posing questions that go beyond Kathleen's death, which is why it's so captivating to watch.