Docu-series That Deserve Your Viewership in the Age of #QuarantineLife (Part 1)

It’s been strange days AF ever since America, along with most of the world, became under siege by novel coronavirus, or for short, COVID-19. When I originally wrote this intro, I had been home for almost 48-hours straight. Massachusetts wasn’t on full lockdown. But California has been operating under “shelter-in-place.” New York is borderline doing the same. And cities and towns in states like Illinois and Pennslyvania plan to initiate their own “stay-at-home” orders by Monday, March 23.

The heightened quietude has certainly been deafening.

If you are fortunate enough to be taking care indoors, you’ve likely seen humorous memes about getting dressed up just to go to the kitchen. As well as propositions of joining a Netflix watch party online. Or finally catching up on those shows and movies you’ve always wanted to watch uninterrupted. 

Now, just because a lot of us (and GOD BLESS our grocery store workers, drugstore workers, transit workers, and those in the medical field) have gathered more time on our hands, I don’t know about you, but I still find it daunting to sit back and just watch anything for hours on end. I sometimes get easily distracted, and I need breaks! 

But even having admitted that, I do find that every couple of weeks, an online series will captivate me, and I too hunker down with a handful of episodes in one sitting. I’ve done this with classic shows like The Facts of Life and 227. (They’re the equivalent of comfort foods for me). But lately, I’ve also become a huge fan of a bunch of non-fiction series. 

For my list of things to watch in the age of #QuarantineLife, I’m featuring those mini-obsessions below. All but one, which is on Amazon Prime, you can find on YouTube.

Read on for my suggestions! And please, be safe and smart as this pandemic continues to have our personal worlds turned so upside down. This year’s year in review will be one for the books come December 2020.

BuzzFeed Unsolved

It was sometime during the fall and winter of 2019 that I started watching Unsolved heavy.

But real talk, I found the show off-putting at first. While describing the scenes, the crimes, people involved, the clues and evidence, hosts Ryan Bergara and Shane Madej interjected with comments that were laced with acid humor. (Bergara created the series).


One of the first episodes I attempted to watch was the one on the 1996 Christmas Day murder of JonBenet Ramsey. And their in-between cackling and smart-ass comments were, for me, too uncouth for such a sad topic.

And this admixture of true crime and jokes has been characteristic of Unsolved from season 1. Still, it has lessened a bit, and maybe that has a lot to do with some of the crimes or supernatural incidents themselves being so absurd. Sometimes even the hosts are too baffled to make a quip and instead remark with sensitivity.

The first episode I was able to watch in full was on the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum art heist (that happened in 1990. Thirty years ago in 2020). The first episode I respected was on the mysterious death of Vincent Van Gogh. The research presented was so uncommon and detailed; you too will question if the legend really did die by suicide. And that’s a claim even the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, Netherlands, stands by.

Unsolved does do a great job of covering crimes that aren’t particularly famous to an average viewer. Such as The Strange Killing of Rex McElroy and The Bizarre Collar Bomb Bank Robbery.

Now in its 12th season, I prefer the true-crime explorations over the supernatural. But give both subjects a watch. Like me, you will get hooked.

Also: don’t watch any of the episodes past 11 PM. (Feel free to watch before 11 PM, on YouTube, Hulu, or Amazon Prime).

Defunctland

Defunctland was recommended so many times on my YouTube homepage that finally one day, I gave in after watching a video from a similar channel called Yesterworld (more on that in Part 2 of my recommendations). 

Omigod, have I enjoyed this series so much. Created by Kevin Perjurer, Defunctland is obsessed with theme parks and theme park history. And Perjurer has taken a particular interest in Walt Disney theme park history and a handful of Disney’s failed, under-performing, haphazard projects; and programs, rides, and initiatives that have for years remain…defunct.

While it certainly isn’t hard to find anyone in love with all things Disney. It’s another to find a fan impassioned about its history and iconic empire. And that’s what makes Defunctland super unique. 

Perjurer’s innovative presentation is also exceptional and of high quality. Nearly every episode is customized by a theme in connection to the topic, and he’s a supremely sarcastic narrator. Among his dogged research, he intercepts narration with inside jokes that by midway through season two, you too will get and might even chuckle at. (I got one name for you: Michael Eisner). Unlike Unsolved, the jokester moments at times work because he very rarely deals with the topic of death.

I also have a suggestion for while kicking back and watching Defunctland: it needs your undivided attention. This isn’t the kind of show that, while viewing, you can simultaneously browse on your phone. (Unsolved is pretty much like this too). You will miss vital information. Because episodes may not always be linear, everything does connect eventually. Perjurer also talks at a slightly accelerated pace, and he shares a lot in an impressive 25-30 minute time frame.

If intrigued, and I hope you are, few are some episodes I was amazed by: The History of Disney’s Worst Attraction, Superstar Limo. The History of the Terrifying Splash Mountain Predecessor, Tales of the Okefenokee. The History of Action Park. The Failure of Hong Kong Disneyland. The History of the Nickelodeon Hotel. The Demolition of Six Flags Astroworld. The History of Nara Dreamland. The Failure of Disney’s Chuck E. Cheese Ripoff, Club Disney. The Failure of Disney’s Arcade Chain, DisneyQuest. The History of Disneyland’s Teen Nightclub, Videopolis.

And the one that convinced a friend and I to drive all the way up to Jefferson, New Hampshire to visit Santa’s Village, may I warmly suggest: The Mystery of the Abandoned Santa Claus Theme Parks.

Hollywood Graveyard

I randomly started watching Hollywood Graveyard last year. And I was shocked to acknowledge within minutes that the show wasn’t this exceedingly sorrowful investigation of celebrity gravesites. Instead, Hollywood Graveyard is a heartened tribute to legends, icons, and favorites across the arts and entertainment world.

Created by Arthur Dark, Dark travels to prominent and sometimes gorgeous cemeteries and mausoleums that, for decades, have been set aside for the famous.

He always records when the sun is out, thus allowing a literal sunny disposition to rule, even when inside. With each grave, crypt, or tomb visit, he issues a thoughtful, respectful briefing of the person interred, recognizing their contributions and groundbreaking achievements or challenges. While he narrates, a video clip or picture often appear on the screen to add further context and appreciation. 

It is just so lovely the way Dark showcases his atypical interest. You will not feel like crap or sad when watching it as his enthusiasm is too apparent. His series will remind you of the magic of film and music. Talk about #LegendsOnly. And he also honors those that while didn’t become household names, gave so much behind the scenes.

The only time you will feel extremely bothered is when Dark features an unmarked gravesite. As it is often the site of a person who should absolutely be honored with a plaque. Natalie Cole, for example, is buried in the same section of Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale as her father, Nat King Cole. Yet when Dark visited, where she was interred was just grass. 

Below is a favorite episode of the series, as it features Dark’s visit to Elizabeth Taylor’s resting place and, from the outside, a look at Michael Jackson’s. His sarcophagus remains unavailable for public viewing or visiting. 

Dark also has special episodes on The Wizard of Oz burials and Halloween.

Bright Sun Films

I discovered Bright Sun Films after my mini-marathons of Defunctland. On my YouTube sidebar, a video from its Abandoned series was suggested, and I figured it was in the same lane as Defunctland. While I can’t remember which episode it was I began with, I watched and followed up with another Abandoned video. 

Abandoned is just as much of a thrill as Perjurer’s work. Though a tad less whipsmart and aggy in commentary as Perjurer, creator Jake Williams holds his own remarkably well in the YouTube world of documentaries about offbeat subjects. He covers a lot of the same topics as his contemporaries do, such as the sad closings of Toys ‘r Us and Sears. Yet there’s a polish to his videos that makes the research that went into it feel complete, sincere, and even indisputable. He’s grown a lot since his first foray with Abandoned: Disney’s Discovery Island, uploaded in 2014, and admittedly bumpy in execution.

Alongside a penchant for retail stores that have gone belly-up and left to dry, Williams also tackles offshoot projects. He covered the Friendship 500 shoal, aka, the McBarge (for Abandoned), and the distressing decision to leave behind a now derelict Charity Hospital in New Orleans, post-Hurricane Katrina. The episode on Charity Hospital was particularly heartbreaking.

Bright Sun also has two other series titled Bankrupt (I recommended the episodes on Pan Am and WOW Airlines) and Cancelled.

Mystery & Makeup

Like the others, I didn’t search for this channel, creator, or series at all. But I do watch a ton of makeup launch and product talks and tutorial videos on YouTube. In addition to true crime and real estate gone bad documentaries. So I’m not surprised that Mystery and Makeup went from being on my peripheral to regular circulation on my account

Created by professional makeup artist Bailey Sarian, while applying makeup, she describes in great detail, stories of true crime. For first-time viewers, it could be a convoluted, preposterous mix. Because for the most part, makeup is an innocuous practice and to have the background of foundation application be the discussion of criminal activity is just odd. Right?

But Sarian is hyper-aware and often sensitive to what she’s describing and knows that her unorthodox take of GRWM (Get Ready with Me) are wild.

In February (and on my birthday!), Sarian answered a viewer’s question about how she got into true-crime storytelling. She said:

“My mom was a 911 dispatcher. And I found it fascinating. Even at a young age. My mom would take me to work with her, and we laugh about it now, because it probably wasn’t the best idea, [because I used to listen in]! I had my own little headphone thing, and it was fascinating to me. I think that’s when it started.”

The crimes she selects are gruesome, and once, I even paused a video and did a Google search on the crime she was talking about. So a heads-up for sure. These aren’t petty crimes she’s covering. What she’s illustrating while perfecting a shimmery green-winged eye, or paints on a lip, will likely include stabbings, serial murders, sexual assault and rape, kidnapping, cover-ups, and cannibalism.

This is America’s Most Wanted, COPS, and TruTV for the makeup community.

The first video I ever watched from her is below, and I chose it because it featured someone I’ve heard of. Jeffrey Dahmer.

Part 2 of #QuarantineLife watching coming up on another blog post!


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