Cape Town - We all know that series like The Crown and The Loudest Voice were inspired by real historical figures - but the shows we’ve picked here are based on low-profile, mostly ordinary people doing extraordinary things at significant moments in history. They’re all ready to stream on internet TV, just in time for the long weekend.
1. Project Blue Book S1 (Showmax)
During the Cold War in the 1950s and 60s, the US Air Force conducted investigations into over 12 000 cases of UFO sightings across the country, under the code name Project Blue Book. Dr J Allen Hynek, an astronomer, was tasked with coming up with answers about whether the UFO fever that gripped the country was a result of actual alien life, the overactive imaginations of US citizens, or if the unidentified aircraft were in fact advanced Russian planes that posed a national security threat.
2. Gangland Undercover S1-2 (Showmax)
Convicted of dealing and manufacturing meth, Charles Falco was given a choice: serve 20 years in jail, or go undercover with one of America's most notorious biker gangs. For the next three years, he led a dangerous life infiltrating the Vagos Gang, gathering evidence of their illegal activities, and later went on to infiltrate two more. He ended up helping in 62 arrests for crimes ranging from assault to murder. This series is based on the real-life Charles Falco’s memoir - though, of course, that’s not always been his name, as he was given a new identity when he’d finished his assignments.
3. Strange Angel S1 (Showmax)
Set in 1930s LA, the series is based on the bizarre true story of Jack Parsons, the man who pioneered America's rocketry programme - who, "by day helps birth the entirely unknown discipline of American rocketry, and by night is a performer of sex magick rituals and a disciple to occultist Aleister Crowley." Delve into this fascinating man’s double life dabbling in the occult and performing downright bizarre sexual rituals.
4. Patrick Melrose (Showmax)
This BAFTA-winning and Emmy-nominated series sees Benedict Cumberbatch playing a troubled upper-class drug addict, and is based on Edward St Aubyn’s semi-autobiographical novels. The series opens in the year 1982, when Patrick, who has the wealth to support all his destructive habits and indulgences in grand style, travels to New York after his father’s death. Subsequent episodes explore his childhood, in which he lacked for nothing except love. The show is a beautiful exploration of the dark side of extreme wealth and privilege.
5. City On A Hill S1 (DStv Now)
This crime series set in the early 1990s in Boston may be fiction, but it takes place in a significant time in the city’s history, and a lot of the characters - and crimes - are based on a mix of real people and events. Kevin Bacon, for example, plays incorrigible cocaine-addicted FBI agent Jackie Rohr, who teams up with the city’s first black Assistant District Attorney, Decourcey Ward (Aldis Hodge), to solve a violent armoured car robbery that could lead them directly to the Irish-American organised crime web. Ward was apparently based on Ralph Martin, Boston’s first black DA; Rohr is based on a composite of three infamous former FBI agents; and in 1994, a widely reported armored car robbery took place in Boston in which two guards were killed.
6. Snowfall S3 (DStv Now)
Set in East LA in the 1980s, this show takes us to the heart of the crack epidemic that rocked the city through the eyes of young drug dealer Franklin Saint. Franklin starts off selling marijuana to his privileged white schoolmates, but takes the leap to distributing the mob’s newest and most lucrative product, crack cocaine. It’s a story about family ties, poverty, desperation and terror - and, depressingly, was based on the real-life experiences of creator John Singleton’s own childhood, as well as that of the consultants Singleton brought in to add real-life touches to the series.
7. GLOW S3 (Netflix)
You probably know that GLOW stands for Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling, but did you know that this was an actual wrestling promotion in the States in the 80s? Just as in the fictionalised series, most of the women who were recruited to star in the show lacked any wrestling experiences - other than Dee Booher, who, because women weren’t allowed to wrestle men at the time, once fought a full-grown bear. Season 3 of the Netflix show starts on Friday, 9 August, bringing more drama, glamour and legitimately impressive fight scenes.