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    Updated on Jul 14, 2020. Posted on Jun 17, 2020

    17 Documentaries That Aren't True Crime But Are Just As Thrilling

    Some nice, legal thrills.

    1. Circus of Books

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    Watch it if: you're interested in the story behind the people who run a porn shop and cultural centre for gay men.

    My humble opinion: This documentary, shot by the main subject's daughter, is an inside look into the family that owned and ran the biggest distributor of gay porn in the United States. Business owners Barry and Karen Mason explain how they found themselves as owners of the shop, how the business grew and then ultimately shrank, and how running it changed their relationship with the community around them.

    Watch out for: the many tender moments from members of the community and between family members.

    Available on: Netflix.

    2. The Defiant Ones

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    Watch it if: you want an insight into the music industry's most powerful partnership.

    My humble opinion: This four-part series gives you a tour through the incredible careers of Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine right up to when they sell their headphone company, Beats, to Apple in 2014. Both men are interviewed throughout, and give a firsthand look at their individual careers, their partnership, and the impact of music on their lives. It's the kind of documentary that will leave you feeling like you want to see more life, so that your stories are as multifaceted, interesting, and decade-defining as theirs.

    Watch out for: the many celebrity cameos, including Ice Cube, Kendrick Lamar, Stevie Nicks, and Bono.

    Available on: Netflix.

    3. Three Identical Strangers

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    Watch it if: you want to see a real-life Parent Trap.

    My humble opinion: This documentary recounts the stories of Edward Galland, Robert Shafran, and David Kellman, a set of identical triplets who were separated at birth and adopted by separate families. Through archival footage and interviews, we hear about how they discovered each other, how they rose to fame, and ultimately how they learned that they'd been separated as a "nature or nurture" scientific experiment.

    Watch out for: After they find each other, the boys find their story flung into the public sphere and briefly find fame.

    Available on: Netflix.

    4. The Last Dance

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    Watch it if: you're into sports or not! Honestly, this one is for everyone.

    My humble opinion: I knew nothing about basketball before watching this, and I still kind of don't know that much. But I was completely transfixed by this documentary series. It follows the Chicago Bulls throughout their 1997–1998 season. While the documentary does follow the whole team's progress, this is definitely the Michael Jordan show.

    Watch out for: Michael Jordan's many memeable moments, and on a more serious note, the inevitable tears that you'll shed when Michael discusses his close relationship with his parents and his personal struggles after his father's death.

    Available on: Netflix.

    5. Last Chance U

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    Watch it if: you like watching things slowly descend into chaos.

    My humble opinion: honestly, Last Chance U is a rollercoaster. It follows the trials and tribulations of the coaches and players of junior college football teams. Most of the players are hoping to transition into Division One football programs; however, they have to overcome personal obstacles along the way. There are currently four seasons available on Netflix to watch. The first two seasons concentrate on the football programme at East Mississippi Community College and the latter two on Independence Community College in Kansas.

    Watch out for: The coaches and their coaching styles are... interesting to say the least. Let's just say that the coach from seasons 3 and 4 is not the role model he seems to think he is.

    Available on: Netflix.

    6. Abstract: The Art Of Design

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    Watch it if: you love good design.

    My humble opinion: Watching Abstract is a peaceful experience: You get to step into the mind of someone else and listen to how their upbringing, their design beliefs, and their environment have influenced the way they create.

    Watch out for: My three standout episodes feature Es Devlin, an incredibly prolific stage designer; Cas Holman, who designs unstructured play toys for kids; and Christoph Niemann, illustrator and graphic designer.

    Available on: Netflix.

    7. One Born Every Minute

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    Watch it if: you like to cry or if you want a realistic look at what childbirth is actually like.

    My humble opinion: Wow, childbirth — what a ride! This long-running documentary series from Channel 4 follows families as they welcome a new baby into their lives. The stories they feature are always diverse, sensitively handled, and insightful about people's lives during their most exciting but fraught moments.

    Watch out for: honestly, the tears. Whenever a baby gets placed into the arms of its mother, I end up crying my eyes out.

    Available on: Channel 4.

    8. 24 Hours In A&E

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    Watch it if: you want to get an insight into what our incredible doctors and nurses are faced with every single day.

    My humble opinion: Every episode of this series takes place over a 24-hour period in the A&E department of one of Britain's busiest hospitals. This documentary gives you full access to a patient's journey through the department including insight into what brought them there, who their family is, and what their treatment is. It's the kind of show that will give you the joy and tragedy of life in equal measure and make you want to hug your loved ones even tighter next time you see them.

    Watch out for: more tears!!! It is physically impossible to not watch an episode without finding yourself in floods of tears, either happy or sad. Most importantly, 24 Hours In A&E is a testament to the incredible work that our healthcare professionals and their support workers do every day.

    Available on: Channel 4.

    9. Cheer

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    Watch it if: you don't think that cheerleading was a "real" sport.

    My humble opinion: Wowee, this is captivating! My knowledge of cheerleading was primarily from Bring It On, but after watching a few episodes of Cheer I was using all the lingo and practically knew the routine myself. This documentary series really shines a light on the determination needed and the sacrifices that the teammates make to be at the very top of their game. You'll get to know some of the main players, and to understand what drives them to perform every time they hit the mat.

    Watch out for: the infectious positivity that radiates from Jerry Harris, and the tough love approach from coach Monica Aldama.

    Available on: Netflix.

    10. March of the Penguins

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    Watch it if: you want to marvel at the beauty and tragedy of the natural world.

    My humble opinion: This Oscar-winning French documentary's English version was narrated by the legendary Morgan Freeman. It follows the yearly journey of the Emperor penguins to their breeding ground. This film left me with a whole new appreciation for the frankly wild lengths that a penguin will go to to breed and hatch their chick.

    Watch out for: the odd sense of solidarity you will feel with the penguins as they make their epic journey while you just sit on your sofa and watch.

    Available on: Amazon Prime.

    11. Chasing Happiness

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    Watch it if: you were a Disney channel kid.

    My humble opinion: This documentary has a clear agenda: to break the Jonas Brothers away from their cookie cutter Disney perception. The film tackles the boys' rise to fame and their subsequent break-up. It gives a polished look at what caused the brothers to drift away from one another, and then to come back together away.

    Watch out for: an insight into what happened to Kevin (who is lowkey my favourite) after the band broke up.

    Available on: Amazon Prime.

    12. Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown

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    Watch it if: you want to learn about the underbelly of a destination.

    My humble opinion: The late, great Anthony Bourdain's travel series is one of the best IMO because he really tried to show you the essence of a destination. Rather than just visiting the fancier establishments (which he does a lot of too, don't get me wrong), he sampled the street food, he met and hung out with the locals, and got to know the history of a city. Bourdain didn't sell you on the postcard picturesque elements of a place, but on the experience of knowing and coming to love it warts and all. The last episodes, which were filmed before Bourdain's death, have just been added to Netflix.

    Watch out for: the season two episode on Detroit. This haunting episode takes a look at the city in 2013, as it was going through bankruptcy – while it could have been easy to concentrate on the negatives, Bourdain instead takes a look at how the city was attempting to regenerate while taking stock of its industrial past. Just like through most of the episodes, Bourdain's love of the city is palpable.

    Available on: Netflix.

    13. Life Off Grid

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    Watch it if: you've ever thought about taking it back to basics.

    My humble opinion: This documentary film meets off-gridders who have chosen to disconnect from gas and electricity grids, and instead build their own infrastructure that harnesses renewable energy. The filmmakers explore it's subjects reasons for this drastic life-change, the innovations that have made it possible, and challenges that each of them have faced.

    Watch out for: the ingenuity that has allowed these off-gridders to make the best of what is available to us all.

    Available on: Amazon Prime.

    14. The Imagineering Story

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    Watch it if: you love Disney and the parks.

    My humble opinion: This six-part documentary series gives you a behind the scenes look at the making of the parks. Having been lucky enough to experience the magic of the parks myself firsthand when I was younger, this series opened my eyes to the carefully planned work that goes into making them the happiest places on earth. Prepare to be astounded by the level of detail and work that goes into every single detail.

    Watch out for: this series breaks the illusion – you'll see parts of the parks that you'd only ever get to if you were an employee, and while that is great, it might change your perspective of the parks.

    Available on: Disney+.

    15. Science Fair

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    Watch it if: you know that kids are the future.

    My humble opinion: This documentary gives an intense look at the "Olympics of science fairs", The International Science and Engineering Fair. You'll follow nine high schoolers from around the world as they prepare to enter their projects into the competition. These kids are seriously impressive, and their drive, determination, and brainpower will give you hope that the next generation really are going to absolutely kill it.

    Watch out for: the lighter moments – this documentary isn't all about the science and competition, but will remind you of your own high school experience of trying to fit in and find your place among friends.

    Available on: Disney+.

    16. Elephant

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    Watch it if: you want to watch a nature documentary that will put your life into perspective.

    My humble opinion: This stunningly shot documentary featurette follows a herd of African elephants as they make the journey across the Kalahari Desert to the Zambezi river. Honestly, just like the March of the Penguins this documentary will give you a renewed appreciation for what animals in the wild go through every day. If you're as hormonal as me, you will also cry.

    Watch out for: The Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle narrates the film!

    Available on: Disney+.

    17. Free Solo

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    Watch it if: you want to watch someone do something so dangerous that it will have you on the edge of your seat the whole time.

    My humble opinion: Never heard of free soloing before? Neither had I, but you will leave this documentary probably knowing that you will never attempt it because my god, it looks terrifying. Free Solo profiles Alex Honnold as he attempts to climb El Capitan in Yosemite without any ropes, harnesses, or protective equipment. You'll be introduced to the world of professional climbing, the risks that those brave enough to do it are facing, and Alex's preparation for the biggest climb of his life.

    Watch out for: During the filming of the documentary Alex starts to date Sanni McCandless, and we see how his love of climbing shapes their relationship.

    Available on: Disney+.

    Additional imagery from Netflix / Disney / CNN.

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