As you tune in to some of this spring’s most anticipated new shows, you may feel a sense of déjà vu: Haven’t I already seen or read or heard about this story before? That’s because a surprising number of this season’s dramas are based on real events and real people, including New York City con artist Anna Delvey, disgraced biotech entrepreneur Elizabeth Holmes and big-cat enthusiasts Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin. They join a growing number of recently premiered docudramas, such as Dopesick and Dr. Death, that derive their plots from podcasts, nonfiction books and magazine articles. Taken together, they prove one thing: Truth is truly stranger than fiction.
Check out these 10 juicy, ripped-from-the-headlines dramas streaming this season, and see if you don’t agree!
Dr. Death (out now)
The premise: If you happen to harbor a fear of doctors, maybe think twice before watching this true-crime drama about Christopher Duntsch, a psychopathic neurosurgeon who left his patients maimed, disfigured or dead. Sweet-faced former teen heartthrob Joshua Jackson (Pacey on Dawson's Creek) plays against type as the killer, with Alec Baldwin, 63, and Christian Slater, 52, teaming up as the doctors who helped uncover his crimes.
Based on: The first season of Wondery’s Dr. Death podcast, hosted by Laura Beil
Watch it: Dr. Death on Peacock
The Shrink Next Door (out now)
The premise: OK, maybe it’s not as shocking as Pacey-as-a-killer-doc, but Paul Rudd, 52, also gets the chance to show off a more sinister side in this dark dramedy. He stars as slick psychiatrist Ike Herschkopf, who manipulates his schlubby client Marty Markowitz (Will Ferrell, 54) and begins to take over every aspect of his life — from his family to his finances to his house in the Hamptons — over the span of 27 years. The always terrific Kathryn Hahn costars as Marty’s sister, alongside SNL alum Casey Wilson as Ike’s wife.
Based on: The Wondery podcast The Shrink Next Door, hosted by Joe Nocera
Watch it: The Shrink Next Door on Apple TV+
Dopesick (out now)
The premise: Created by Danny Strong, the executive producer behind Empire, this Hulu series takes a 360-degree view of America’s opioid crisis, from the boardrooms of Purdue Pharma to an Appalachian mining town where OxyContin abuse runs rampant. The interweaving stories follow characters both real and fictional, including Purdue executive Richard Sackler (Michael Stuhlbarg, 53), a small-town doctor (Michael Keaton, 70), a DEA agent (Rosario Dawson), a U.S. attorney (Peter Sarsgaard, 50) and a young Virginia coal miner who turns to painkillers after an injury (Kaitlyn Dever).
Based on: The 2018 book Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company That Addicted America, by Beth Macy
Watch it: Dopesick on Hulu
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Pam & Tommy (out now)
The premise: Lily James and Sebastian Stan are unrecognizable as Baywatch star Pamela Anderson and Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee in this salacious black comedy about the unauthorized release of a private sex tape recorded during the couple’s honeymoon. Seth Rogen costars as the electrician who stole the tape and shopped it around to adult film studios in an attempt to ruin Lee’s life — though he may have had the exact opposite effect.
Based on: The 2014 Rolling Stone article “Pam and Tommy: The Untold Story of the World’s Most Infamous Sex Tape,” by Amanda Chicago Lewis
Watch it: Pam & Tommy on Hulu
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Inventing Anna (out now)
The premise: For her big follow-up to Bridgerton, Shonda Rhimes, 52, takes on the juicy, twist-filled tale of Anna Delvey (real name: Anna Sorokin), a Russian-born fake heiress who scammed her way through the New York City social scene as she defrauded hotels, restaurants, banks and socialite friends. Two-time Emmy winner Julia Garner from Ozark stars as the convicted con artist, with Veep’s Anna Chlumsky playing the journalist who uncovers her schemes.
Based on: The 2018 New York magazine article “Maybe She Had So Much Money She Just Lost Track of It,” by Jessica Pressler — who also wrote the article that inspired the movie Hustlers
Watch it: Inventing Anna on Netflix
Super Pumped (February 27)
The premise: In terms of cultural impact, it’s hard to think of a recent Silicon Valley startup that has changed the way we live more completely than Uber. But behind the scenes, its corporate culture has had more ups and downs than the stock market. This new Showtime drama charts the rise and fall of former CEO Travis Kalanick (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and his relationship with Texas venture capitalist Bill Gurley (Kyle Chandler, 56) and board member Arianna Huffington (Uma Thurman, 51).
Based on: The 2019 book Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber, by Mike Isaac
Watch it: Super Pumped on Showtime
Joe vs. Carole (March 3)
The premise: Unless you were living under a rock in the spring of 2020, chances are you’ve heard of Netflix’s megahit docuseries Tiger King, about dueling zookeepers Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin. Who knew the world of big-cat breeding involved so much sex, drugs and murder?! In this scripted adaptation, SNL’s Kate McKinnon stars as the tiger-rescuing (and allegedly husband-murdering) Baskin, with Hedwig and the Angry Inch’s John Cameron Mitchell, 58, donning a mullet and mustache as her sworn rival.
Based on: The second season of Wondery’s true-crime podcast Over My Dead Body, hosted by Robert Moor
Watch it: Joe vs. Carole on Peacock
The Dropout (March 3)
The premise: In this new Hulu miniseries, Oscar nominee Amanda Seyfried assumes the trademark black turtleneck and fake deep voice of disgraced Theranos entrepreneur Elizabeth Holmes. If you haven’t been following along with her recent trial, here are the basics: Holmes was the CEO and founder of a supposedly revolutionary company that claimed to be able to perform countless blood tests with a simple prick of your finger. Turns out it couldn’t, and she was charged with criminal fraud. Jennifer Lawrence is also working on an Elizabeth Holmes project with Don’t Look Up director Adam McKay, based on the book Bad Blood.
Based on: The ABC Audio podcast, hosted by Rebecca Jarvis, which won podcast of the year at the iHeartRadio Podcast Awards and spawned an Emmy-nominated 20/20 episode
Watch it: The Dropout on Hulu
The Thing About Pam (March 8)
The premise: If you don’t want to be spoiled, skip this part! True-crime lovers will remember the 2011 murder of Betsy Faria, who was found by her husband, Russ, two days after Christmas, stabbed to death in the family home. Russ was arrested and convicted, but he maintained his innocence. A series of investigations and a retrial later pointed to Pam Hupp, a life insurance administrator with ties to Betsy. Two-time Oscar winner Renée Zellweger, 52, disappears into her role as Pam, and Josh Duhamel and Judy Greer play opposing attorneys during Russ’ trial.
Based on: Dateline NBC coverage of the 2011 murder and a follow-up podcast hosted by correspondent Keith Morrison, 74
WeCrashed (March 18)
The premise: Hot off his role in House of Gucci, Jared Leto, 50, stars as Adam Neumann, the hard-partying Israeli cofounder of WeWork, who fashioned himself as a long-haired hippie-guru-messiah type. His coworking real estate empire seemed to be changing the way we do business, and it was eventually valued at $47 billion, before the whole thing came crashing down with a shocking failed IPO attempt. Fellow Oscar winner Anne Hathaway costars as Adam’s wife, Rebekah Neumann, who also served as WeWork’s chief brand and impact officer.
Based on: The Wondery podcast WeCrashed: The Rise and Fall of WeWork, hosted by David Brown, formerly of NPR’s Marketplace
Watch it: WeCrashed on Apple TV+
Nicholas DeRenzo is a contributing writer who covers entertainment and travel. Previously he was executive editor of United Airlines’ Hemispheres magazine and his work has appeared in the New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, Travel & Leisure, Sunset and New York magazine.