True crime continues to reach new heights of popularity on television. The People Vs. OJ Simpson, The Assassination of Gianni Versace, Secrets And Lies specials, and Law and Order True Crime: The Menedez Brothers are just a few true crime dramas that have debuted within the past two years. Now, it’s time add a new miniseries into the mix with the debut of Waco on the newly renamed Paramount Network (formerly Spike TV).
Waco is a 6-part miniseries detailing the 51-day standoff between the FBI, ATF, and Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, in 1993. The Branch Davidians were lead by David Koresh, a religious cult leader who’s group look to live free from the government in their compound at the Mount Carmel Ranch. Rumored to have illegal weapons inside the facility as well as allegations of polygamy and statutory rape, the initial ATF raid lead to the deaths of 4 ATF agents and 6 Branch Davidians. Sadly, the 51-day siege ended in a huge fire of the compound, killing 76 people including Koresh.
For those that were not alive, there have been plenty of documentaries, interviews, and books on the matter so Google is your best friend if you’d like to do more research. I’ve only seen one episode (most critics have seen 3) so I can only go off what I have seen. After one episode, it’s a promising start lead by performances from Taylor Kitsch and Michael Shannon, but a rushed timeline and moral dilemma on the horizon might make viewers uncomfortable.
Waco Review And Reaction
– First of all, John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle (creators) nailed the casting of Taylor Kitsch as David Koresh. It’s scary how much they look alike.
– I love true crime because the best stories to be told are ones that happened. If you know nothing about the case, a 51-day FBI and ATF siege of a religious cult should grab your interest level right away if you love crime thrillers.
– If Paramount Network is all-in on scripted dramas, they did not hold anything back for their first cast. Taylor Kitsch, Michael Shannon, Andrea Riseborough, Rory Culkin, Shea Wigham, John Leguizamo, and Melissa Benoist. Not bad at all.
– Mini tangent: Taylor Kitsch. Talk about someone who’s career should’ve skyrocketed a few years ago. Obviously, most people know Taylor Kitsch as Tim Riggins from the show that changed every teenager’s life, Friday Night Lights. Popularity was soaring for Kitsch after 2010 and he had his sights set on the big screen. 2012 came around aka the year that was supposed to take him to superstardom. Kitsch starred in Battleship, Hostages, and most notably, John Carter. Now, I personally enjoyed all of those movies, but they did below average or bombed at the box office. What was supposed to be Kitsch’s year became a worst case scenario. Kitsch went on to also star in season 2 of True Detective, which earned him good reviews for his performance, but the show was not well-received. I’m really pulling for Taylor Kitsch because he should’ve been a superstar a few years ago. With his acting ability and good looks (he’s a 10/10 and everyone knows it), Kitsch has leading man written all over him. I’ve liked his ability to transform and become David Koresh from what I’ve seen so far. I hope he gets another shot at a movie franchise.
For any Kitsch fans, check out this recent GQ article.
– There’s no denying this is a well-acted production. I’m not sure I’ve seen Michael Shannon put together a bad performance since Kangaroo Jack. Shannon plays Gary Noesner, an FBI Crisis Negotiator who stands in the middle of “doing it by the book” and “going against protocol.” From the first episode, Shannon is going to be conflicted when it comes to (eventually) negotiating with Koresh. It’s going to be Koresh vs. the ATF with Shannon trying to mediate the whole thing.
– The show has a lot of promise. Two solid performances by Kitsch and Shannon, an interesting subject matter, and plenty of action on the horizon. I am worried that it could feel rushed. 6 episodes is not a lot of time to develop characters and tell a story over two timelines. Waco started the show off 9 months before the actual siege and it will eventually cover the present day. It’s a lot to do in 6 episodes.
– Here is the moral conflict that I alluded to in the title. Waco is based on two books, A Place Called Waco by David Thibodeau (played by Rory Culkin) & Leon Whiteson and Stalling For Time: My Life As An FBI Hostage Negotiator by Gary Noesner (Shannon). Lines in the sand have been drawn. It’s the Branch Davidians vs. The ATF and (vs.) The FBI. It’s Anti-Government vs. Government. To this day, details of who shot first, who burned the compound, and who killed the Branch Davidians inside are all still up for debate.
As Gary Noesner said above, there was good and bad on both sides. Many people thought the siege was a black eye for the FBI. Some believed they used too much force to enter the compound and were responsible for killing women and children. However, the audience is going to feel extremely conflicted with the portrayal of Koresh. After one episode, the show is portraying Koresh as a down-to-earth religious prophet who truly believed he was doing good for the people of his compound. That being said, Koresh was building up an arsenal of illegal weapons, practicing polygamy, and was the only one in the compound who could have sex with the women. Sometimes, these women were as young as 14, which is considered statutory rape. Some critics have said that the show portrays Koresh with a sympathetic approach. Once again, I have only seen one episode so I can’t speak for the future, but for the one episode I saw, Koresh doesn’t seem like a “bad guy.” I was only a couple of weeks old when this happened, but for those who were alive, I could see Koresh’s portrayal rubbing viewers the wrong way. Can the viewer separate what really happened from the show’s portrayal of the events? Can the viewer appreciate the show as a well-acted production instead of remembering the brutal aftermath that lead to over 70 people dying? Right now, I’m not sure.
I’m going to watch Waco because I want to see how the creators portray the actual siege. Will you continue to watch? Let me know what you think in the comments or hit me up on Twitter @danny_giro.