Netflix may be in trouble, but the number 1 show on Netflix today reveals that it’s still super-serving one of its strongest audiences: true crime fans. Conversations with a Killer: The John Wayne Gacy Tapes — the latest true crime project from director Joe Berlinger, who’s behind countless similar projects from Netflix.
We call out Conversations with a Killer: The John Wayne Gacy Tapes today because it shot to the top of Netflix’s charts faster than you can say “should I cancel Netflix?” Yes, after dropping on Wednesday (April 20), it’s already the #1 overall show or movie on Netflix in the United States.
So, while we were excited for Russian Doll season 2 and Anatomy of a Scandal was highly ranked just days ago, true crime continues to be one of the most popular (if not the biggest) categories on Netflix. But this popularity comes with a real question: should you join the masses in watching it?
So, below, let’s break down what the show is, why it’s earned some interest and what people are saying about it.
Also, in breaking streaming news: CNN Plus is dead after less than a month of streaming shows about Anderson Cooper and Don Lemon.
What is Conversations with a Killer: The John Wayne Gacy Tapes?
John Wayne Gacy, if you’re not familiar yet, is one of the most well-known serial killers in American history. This reputation is earned in part because Gacy flew under the radar with so many. He was a precinct captain for the local Democratic party, and he was even working as a birthday clown for parties. Beneath that lively persona, though, was a man who did deplorable things and killed 33 — all boys and young men.
The documentary Conversations with a Killer: The John Wayne Gacy Tapes is something of a sequel to Berlinger’s previous Netflix hit Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes. But unlike that four-parter, this docuseries only goes three episodes (each about an hour long, give or take).
And just like that series, The John Wayne Gacy Tapes is filled with audio taken from 60 hours of recorded conversations between Gacy and his legal team. The other big “get” for this series is newly found archival footage of the excavation of Gacy’s crawl space. Just beware, though, as this is where he’d been keeping bodies to decompose — so it’s not for the faint of heart.
The John Wayne Gacy Tapes is also not just about Gacy. It also focuses on how Gacy’s story is tied to prevalent opinions at that time about gay men and men not being seen as potential assault victims.
Should you watch Conversations with a Killer: The John Wayne Gacy Tapes?
Well, right now, the critics are out to lunch on this show. Either it slipped under their radar or something, because Rotten Tomatoes only has three critic reviews listed.
The Chicago Tribune’s Nina Metz is slightly damning in her (paywalled) review, basically saying this is more of the same, writing “There is no shortage of TV and film about Gacy. This is just one more.”
The more positive reviews came from slightly lesser-known outlets. Ready Steady Cut’s Romey Norton calls the series “a great binge watch, easily done in one evening.” Which is technically true, but at three hours and three minutes, that’s your whole evening. Norton also notes the “series is an interesting and heart-breaking watch,” that he recommends for fans of serial killer documentaries and The Ted Bundy Tapes.
Consequence’s Clint Worthington gave a mixed review, stating “decently well-structured, moves fast at a mere three hours” and “you won’t get much from The John Wayne Gacy Tapes that a passing familiarity with the man and his murders won’t reveal.”
The two Rotten Tomatoes audience reviews hit similar takes. Ayanna L notes “It’s the same things we already know. I was expecting new information about John Gacy, Instead, it just mimics the other documentaries about his life and consequences,” while William T is more positive, writing “This was a hell of a lot better than I thought it was going to be. The crew did a excellent job on this.”