By Gregory Crofton
“Docuseries” is a relatively new word in television that describes a multi-part documentary. It’s also a reinvigorated type of production being popularized by streaming giants like Netflix.
LONG STRANGE TRIP , a four-hour epic about The Grateful Dead, was a popular docuseries from Amazon in 2017; before that came Netflix’s red hot 10-part MAKING A MURDERER (2015) hit. And now Netflix has WILD WILD COUNTRY, a brand new six-parter about a cult from the 1980s.
The money that Netflix and Amazon Prime (and cable channels) are investing in documentaries is, for the most part, well appreciated by fans. But is all that money warping these productions?
Neither Neflix nor Amazon measure success by ticket sales. They measure it by the amount of time a person spends streaming on their site or by how many goods they purchase.
I think WILD WILD COUNTRY could have been an outstanding two-hour documentary. Instead we get a six-and-a-half hour epic that’s designed to be just compelling enough to make you wade all the way through it. In other words, hours and hours of time spent watching Netflix.
We also end up with another documentary about a cult on our hands, probably because Netflix’s data crunching indicated it would be a worthy investment. The documentary genre appears ready to travel the same path that Hollywood has chosen — to tell the same stories again and again, because that’s what makes money.
This particular story — about the magnetism of a spiritual leader named Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh — did however need to be told. The kernel of the documentary, and the 300 hours of archival footage that came with it, is a fascinating, if distended, look at American culture.
Below watch an interview with the two brothers who directed it.