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A Field Guide to 2022 TV Dramas Based on True Stories

Because there are a LOT of them

shows based on true stories
Illustration by Steven Fiche
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    The joke is that if three examples of one thing happen, you’ve got a trend piece fit for the New York Times. So, what can we take away from the fact that over the next three months, there will be nine new original dramas inspired by, based on, or documenting a relatively recent scandal, crime, or real event? That it’s more than a trend within Hollywood — it’s an obsession.

    Sure, “based on a true story” is an all-too-common touchstone for film and television, but of all the major streamers, this spring only Prime Video and Disney+ are missing a new limited series within this genre (and who knows? We still don’t know a lot about Moon Knight).

    Below, we break down all of the upcoming limited series currently set to premiere this spring, featuring gangsters, basketball stars, con artists, zookeepers, and entrepreneurs.

    Liz Shannon Miller


    Pam and Tommy

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    Network/Platform: Hulu

    Release Date: February 2nd, 2022

    What Really Happened: In the 1990s, an explicit Hi8 tape featuring TV star/model Pamela Anderson and Motley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee was stolen by a contractor named Rand Gauthier who had done renovations for Lee. Gauthier teamed up with some unsavory characters to distribute the tape, first via direct sale online, before

    Source Material: The 2014 Rolling Stone article “Pam and Tommy: The Untold Story of the World’s Most Infamous Sex Tape” by Amanda Chicago Lewis.

    Star Power: Lily James, Sebastian Stan, Seth Rogen, Nick Offerman, Taylor Schilling, and Andrew Dice Clay

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    Behind the Scenes: Showrunners DV DeVincentis and Robert Siegel have a strong pedigree between them (DeVincentis previously wrote on American Crime Story, while Siegel’s film credits include The Wrestler and Big Fan) and I, Tonya director Craig Gillespie brings his signature style to several episodes, along with additional episode directors Lake Bell (In a World…, Hannah Fiddell (A Teacher), and Gwyneth Horder-Payton (Pose).

    How Accurate Does It Claim to Be? “Based on the incredible true story,” is the phrasing from the trailer.

    How Much True Crime Actually Happens? While it starts with a pretty clear-cut crime (the theft of Lee’s safe, including the tape), the real crime is the invasion of Lee and Anderson’s privacy, though in the 1990s, a woman’s privacy doesn’t seem to matter if she’s previously posed for Playboy.

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    Buzz Level: Four out of five bootleg VHSes. The series currently has an 85% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes (including Consequence‘s positive review), and Sebastian Stan and Lily James’ transformations into their respective personas is pretty jaw-dropping. — L.S.M.

    Inventing Anna

    Network/Platform: Netflix

    Release Date: February 11th, 2022

    What Really Happened: In 2013, a young woman going by the name of Anna Delvey began integrating herself into New York high society, claiming to be a rich heiress before slowly being revealed as a con artist with countless unpaid bills and ruined friendships due to her scamming.

    Source Material: Jessica Pressler’s 2018 The Cut profile of Delvey, real name Anna Sorokin.

    Star Power: Julia Garner, Anna Chlumsky, Katie Lowes, Laverne Cox, Alexis Floyd, Arian Moayed, Anders Holm, Anna Deavere Smith, and Jeff Perry. (Fun drinking game: Take a shot every time a Scandal actor appears!)

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    Behind the Scenes: Inventing Anna was created by Shonda Rhimes, her first official TV show for Netflix as part of her overall deal with the platform.

    How Accurate Does It Claim to Be? “This whole story is completely true. Except for all of the parts that are totally made up.”

    How Much True Crime Actually Happens? Anna Sorokin stole about $275,000 from various parties before her arrest in 2017.

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    Buzz Level: 4.5 out of 5 selfies, thanks to the Shondaland of it all, as well as the focus on Chlumsky as the reporter doing her best to tell Anna’s story, adding a whole extra meta component to the proceedings. — L.S.M.

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