The appeal of true crime has long endured on TV, yet the genre kicked into high gear on streaming with services carving out their space. Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max, and Apple TV+ each made strong showings this year with several entries making our Top 50 list of all time. Below, you’ll find our Top 10 (11, actually) picks for 2022, and the criteria happens to be simple. First, these shows (and one film) all entertained, and second, they all scared the bejesus out of us. Hopefully, they terrified the hell out of you, too.
10. TIE: Black Bird (Apple TV+ series)
This limited series brings us one of Ray Liotta’s final onscreen appearances, and yes, you’ll soon see him in the flat-out crazy Cocaine Bear, but first, prepare yourself for six hours of flat-out intensity. Liotta portrays Big Jim Keene, a veteran cop and dad to Taron Egerton’s Jimmy in this Dennis Lehane-produced adaptation of Jimmy’s In With The Devil: A Fallen Hero, A Serial Killer, and A Dangerous Bargain for Redemption memoir. The drug-dealing Jimmy does end up in hell, meaning that he takes an FBI deal to go undercover at a max-security prison, where he ends up tangling with Larry Hall, a serial killer played by Paul Walter Hauser. Surely, you’ve seen his work before, and he’s at his unsettling best in this unyieldingly tense series that never takes its foot off the gas.
10. TIE. Crime Scene: The Texas Killing Fields (Netflix series)
Not too many bread-and-butter true crime series rose to the top of the crop this year, but the latest entry in Joe Berlinger’s Crime Scene made the grade. Berlinger’s anthology series revolves around settings as central characters that (arguably) aid and abet the flourishing of violent crimes. And as with the Cecil Hotel, there’s definitely a vibe that helps one understand why the so-called “Texas Killing Fields” were plenty spooky enough before bodies were discovered. In this case, Calder Road (part of the marshy surroundings between Galveston and Houston) turned into a focal point connected to the disappearance of four young women, whose murders remain cold cases to this day. This series traces decades of history tied to Calder Road’s ominous vibe, led by one grieving father who’s still searching for the truth.
9. The Dropout (Hulu series)
It was a tough call to leave Inventing Anna off this list (especially since Julia Garner remained fantastic even while delivering Anna Delvey’s cryptic accent). Yet that series bore such a strong (thematic) resemblance to The Dropout with smaller stakes, so the Elizabeth Holmes-tracking series made the cut. Amanda Seyfried picks up the role of an enigma wrapped in a Steve Jobs-style black turtleneck, an image that launched “the world’s youngest self-made woman billionaire.” As the world now knows, Holmes pulled the blood-testing wool over the entire biotech industry’s eyes. This series dove into that phenomenon while Holmes’ real-life trial played out amid similar fates for several other grifters. Yet what was it, exactly, that made both that industry and our culture want to believe in Holmes’ deep-throated lies? That’s the scariest part, and Seyfried’s performance goes a long way to inform us of the “why.”
8. Candy (Hulu series)
Actors sure do appear to target “unrecognizable” as the true mark of a fine performance, but Jessica Biel delivers the theatrical goods through her bewigged Candy Montgomery, whose neighbor (Betty Gore) somehow ended up being on the receiving end of dozens of fatal ax wounds. Betty is, of course, portrayed by Melanie Lynskey, who’s had a hell of a year between this series and Yellowjackets success. The attraction of this series is not so much about suspense or the crime itself but more about the dynamic between Candy and Betty (and various third parties) as their dynamic devolves.
7. Tinder Swindler (Netflix film)
If you ever needed the motivation to stay away from online dating apps, this 94-minute case study is for you. Simon Leviev is actually still out there hunting (after serving time on fraud and forgery charges), and this series reveals how he methodically scammed the hell out of a series of unsuspecting women. Before they knew what was happening, they’d been wined and dined on another woman’s dime before Leviev — who masqueraded as a diamond-empire heir — also defrauded them while claiming to be in fear for his life. This is a heartbreaking series to watch for several reasons, but it’s also a cautionary tale that can make a real impact upon audiences. After all, the stranger-danger sixth sense exists for a reason.
6. Pam & Tommy (Hulu series)
I, Tonya director Craig Gillespie did it again. He helmed a project that was a freaking blast but also revolved around a central crime (the theft and leaking of a sex tape) that paved the way for a sh*t ton of emotional devastation. Gillespie delivered the goods through a sleight of hand that managed to balance the rock-and-roll spirit of this project with fallout that plagues Pamela Anderson to this day. It’s also not lost on anyone that Pamela’s humiliation ultimately sourced from a beef between two dudes, and Lily James delivered an anchoring performance that humanized the whole project amid theatrical flourishes from Sebastian Stan. In the end, this show went to dark places but also made plenty of time for spectacle, including tossing around mullets (atop Seth Rogen and Nick Offerman) like it ain’t no thing.
5. The Watcher (Netflix series)
Few people would argue that this is an objectively good show. In fact, this series made a lot of people angry due to the lack of a definitive ending, but that’s also true to the real-life inspiration (an investigative report from The Cut) for this story. Hell, that might be one of the only parts of this tale that matches up to what actually happened, but this was a compelling series that allowed its actors (including Margo Martindale, Mia Farrow, and yes, Bobby Cannavale) to have a ball with alternately dodging and claiming responsibility for the terrorizing letters that arrived when a family moved into a dream home. What transpired was a nightmare full of red herrings that batted around the subject matter like a sweet little bunny, and the fact that all of this is forgivable is a testament to Ryan Murphy’s producing skills. He knows exactly what makes the streaming audience tune in, and a devilish Jennifer Coolidge capped off a delightful mess. Somehow, a second season is coming, so that’ll be fun.
4. Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives. (Netflix series)
Hoo boy. I recently rewatched this 4-part series and caught plenty of previously missed cues, which is a sure sign of a successful (and triggering) true-crime story. Celebrity NYC restauranteur Sarma Melngailis, wasn’t too happy with this show’s ending, which she called “misleading,” but the series as a whole is mesmerizing for the level of control that she progressively yielded to the dastardly Anthony Strangis (who previously operated as “Shane Fox”). The sunk-cost fallacy is strong with Sarma, and she actually did hard time at Riker’s Island. This leaves one to wonder exactly how she let her entire business go down the tubes for the promise of dog immortality, but that’s only the beginning. You might grow exasperated with Sarma’s behavior, but there’s a huge mic drop in the middle of Episode 3 that proves how people can present greater horrors than the supernatural.
3. Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story (Netflix series)
Ryan Murphy can’t stop, and although I didn’t particularly enjoy this grody series (you are no doubt aware of the nature of Dahmer’s crimes), there’s no denying that people couldn’t stop clicking. The show swiftly racked up a billion hours of streaming time, and it’s no wonder why. Evan Peters truly unsettled as a predator who carried out ungodly crimes from within his Wisconsin apartment, even while remarks about “that smell” didn’t seem to deter him. If you’re one of the few Internet souls who didn’t catch this show, make sure that you don’t eat too much before settling down to binge. Soon enough, Monster will return in anthologized form while focusing upon a different serial killer.
2. The Staircase (HBO Max series)
This dramatization of the Michael Peterson story — which follows Jean-Xavier de Lestrade’s instant-classic docuseries, also called The Staircase — set out to do a few impossible things. Yes, it succeeded at justifying its own existence, and yes, it went to graphic lengths to reenact speculative theories on how Kathleen Peterson could have died, and it managed to do so without cheapening the subject matter. In fact, Toni Collette’s performance went miles to respectfully wrap its hands around Kathleen’s memory, and Colin Firth deftly kept everyone guessing about Michael’s motives and actions. The show skillfully dances around some of the more extraordinary (and somehow plausible) explanations for Kathleen’s fate without reducing her to an autopsy report. It’s not the easiest watch, but you won’t be able to turn it off, either.
1. Under The Banner Of Heaven (FX on Hulu series)
Now for something completely different. This series will hit the spot for who’s still salty about how True Detective‘s second season shook out. The story is based upon Jon Krakauer’s non-fiction bestseller, for which A Story of Violent Faith is a subtitle, so you can accurately guess that things don’t go well for the character played by Daisy Edgar-Jones (who also had quite an ordeal in this year’s Fresh). The story presents a husband-as-suspect to a double murder, but it swiftly becomes apparent that there’s much more going on, and Andrew Garfield shines as a detective who’s also a devout Latter Day Saints member. Those lingering Spidey senses do still come in handy for him, as well as for this show’s audience. Cue some swirling conspiracies that the Mormon church hasn’t enjoyed IRL, which means that this one strikes a chord on multiple levels. That’s a hallmark of an enduring true-crime show, for sure.