Southern Streaming: Bill Pullman as Alex Murdaugh, Ken Burns on Bison, and a Modern Spin on Poe

October’s standout series, movies, and podcasts with Southern ties

Photo: Courtesy of Harvey Payne

The Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in Pawhuska, Oklahoma.

You may be asking yourself, “What, is this an Alex Murdaugh column now?” And I would answer, dear reader, that as long as anyone with a film and TV budget keeps churning out these documentaries and movies of the week about the Lowcountry lawyer turned convicted double murderer, I’m here to report on it. But at least I had the self-respect to make this month’s Murdaugh outing the second blurb, not the first. I’m nothing without my moral center.  

Burns on Bison

The American Buffalo, PBS

Foremost documentarian Ken Burns turns his lens this month on the bison, aka the American buffalo, our almost-obliterated national mammal. In his two-part, four-hour series, airing and streaming October 16 and 17 on PBS, Burns and a host of Indigenous experts will trace the species’s history, near demise, and how dedicated scientists, conservationists, and tribes are working to bring it back. You can read more about those efforts, too, in G&G assistant editor Lindsey Liles’s August/September 2023 conservation story on the Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve. 

While You Were Murdering

Murdaugh Murders: The Movie, Lifetime

photo: Courtesy of Lifetime
Bill Pullman as Alex Murdaugh.

Bill Pullman—one of my girlhood crushes. While You Were Sleeping? Are you kidding me? The man wore flannel and made furniture, what more do you want from me? Independence Day? You try envisioning anyone else as president as the aliens descend. And yet… Bill. I… I must ask what you are doing in the first fictionalized account of Alex Murdaugh’s double murder, airing on Lifetime in two parts October 14 and 15, and streaming the following days. I mean, at least he committed to the role (and the Hampton County accent). Click on the trailer to see for yourself. 

Boom and Busted

Pain Hustlers, Netflix

photo: Brian Douglas/Netflix © 2023
Chris Evans, Andy Garcia, and Emily Blunt in Pain Hustlers.

Just how did the opioid epidemic get so bad? One answer lies with a shady pharmaceutical company in Florida in the 2000s and the scientist and salespeople behind it who would do anything to push their new formula of fentanyl. The journalist Evan Hughes chronicled the whole story in his 2022 nonfiction book, The Hard Sell: Crime and Punishment at an Opioid Startup. G&G contributor Wells Tower then turned the story into a screenplay for a movie that drops on Netflix on October 27 with some heavy hitters: Emily Blunt, Chris Evans, Andy Garcia, and Catherine O’Hara. 

Poe-fect October Viewing

The Fall of the House of Usher, Netflix

photo: Eike Schroter/Netflix © 2023
Carl Lumbly and Bruce Greenwood in The Fall of the House of Usher

The South’s most gothic writer, Edgar Allen Poe, gets the Netflix treatment this month when an eight-episode modern retelling of his short story “The Fall of the House of Usher” drops October 12. Watch for characters from and references to other Poe works, too, and G&G shag favorite Annabeth Gish in a starring role. Inspired? G&G has you covered in this guide to Southern literary Halloween costumes, Poe and raven included. 

Modern Day Bonnie and Clyde

Bad Romance: The Vicky White Story, Lifetime

photo: Courtesy of Lifetime

Remember that crazy story last year about the Alabama corrections officer who helped her county inmate boyfriend flee the joint before killing herself after a ten-day manhunt? Well, Lifetime, which is on a true-crime kick this month, did, and turned it into another of its original movies, airing on October 21 and streaming the next day.

Six Feet Under

The Burial, Prime Video

photo: Skip Bolen/Amazon Content Services, LLC
Tommy Lee Jones and Jamie Foxx in The Burial.

Back in the mid-nineties, a slick Canadian funeral home conglomerate tried to muscle into the burial trade in Mississippi. Not so fast, said longtime indie funeral home owner Jeremiah O’Keefe, played in this retelling by Tommy Lee Jones. His trial against the company, led by his son-of-a-sharecropper lawyer Willie E. Gary, played here by Jamie Foxx, made international news. Before watching the movie, out October 12, it’s worth going back and reading the New York Times report following the case.

An Unfair Hearing

Earwitness, Lava for Good (Apple Podcasts, Spotify, et al.)

The unreliability of eyewitnesses is well documented, but imagine getting pinned for a murder because someone thought they heard something incriminating. That’s what happened to Toforest Johnson, convicted of the 1995 Birmingham shooting death of deputy sheriff William G. Hardy—despite the fact Johnson was spotted at a local nightclub by multiple people at the time of the killing. Investigative journalist Beth Shelburne, an Alabama native, reported this eight episode podcast that asks, as Lava for Good puts it, “How did an innocent man end up on death row—and why is the state still trying to execute him over the objection of the prosecutor who put him there?”