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The 7 best Louis Theroux documentaries to watch now on BBC iPlayer – from Weird Weekends to Forbidden America
The much-loved documentarian is back on the BBC with a new three-episode series, Louis Theroux’s Forbidden America. We take a look at some of his best documentaries to date.
Louis Theroux has enlightened viewers with his unique style of documentary film making since he first came to prominence in the late 90s – delving into a broad range of subjects and taboo subcultures from religion and politics to sex and celebrity.
Now, with new BBC documentary series Forbidden America looking at extremes in the U.S., we take a look at some of his best encounters to date. The best bit? They're all available to stream on demand now with BBC iPlayer.
Louis Theroux’s Forbidden America
Episode 1 (Extreme and Online) of his latest BBC series, Louis Theroux’s Forbidden America, focuses on the new breed of far-right extremists in the U.S., born out of online gaming and social media. He speaks to white nationalist political commentator, Nick Fuentes, internet troll and far-right live-streamer Tim Gionet aka Baked Alaska (pictured), and extremist gamer Beardson Beardly.
The rest of the series sees Louis immersing himself in the Florida rap scene (Rap’s New Frontline), where those looking to make it big in hip-hop use social media to stream and promote their often chaotic, and sometimes violent, lifestyles.
And finally, Louis returns to the porn industry in LA (Porn’s MeToo), as the world of adult entertainment grapples with its own #MeToo movement in the wake of revelations around adult actors such as Ron Jeremy.
Best bit: In Extreme and Online, when Louis turns up to an extremist’s house to question him about his views and confront him about an apparent Nazi salute he made. In an odd moment of fandom, Matt Evans, aka Beardson Beardly, greets the documentary maker in a Louis Theroux t-shirt he’s bought off the internet. Shortly after, he’s telling Louis to leave his property after objecting to his line of questioning.
They say ‘never meet your heroes’.
Episode 1 and 2 of Louis Theroux's Forbidden America is available to watch on BBC iPlayer now. Episode 3 is available from Sunday 27 February (and on BBC Two at 10pm).
In 2018, Louis made three documentaries as part of his Altered States series, looking at the ways America deals with birth, love and death.
In Love Without Limits, Louis travels to Portland to speak to people involved in polyamorous relationships, then meets women who give their babies up for adoption in Take My Baby, and explores Oregon’s right to die laws in Choosing Death.
There’s lots bubbling below the surface in Love Without Limits, which makes it a fascinating watch. Witnessing Louis attend a blindfolded sensual dinner (after asking his wife, of course) is TV gold. Awkward!
Best bit: In Love Without Limits, when Louis asks Amanda, Nick and Bob (pictured) – the IT workers – about how they manage their sex lives. Cue Nick sharing too much information about how it all works.
All three episodes of Louis Theroux: Altered States are available to stream now on BBC iPlayer.
Louis visits three American states to shine a light on tragedy and human crisis: heroin and painkiller addiction in Huntington, sex trafficking in Houston and murder in Milwaukee.
In Murder in Milwaukee, Louis is at the heart of the action, riding with the police in one of the most violent and segregated states in America. The documentary is a terrifying look at gun crime, drugs and gang culture in the U.S., and Theroux has to delicately balance all sides.
Best bit: Louis speaks to a shocked and devastated mother as her son lays murdered on the street surrounded by police tape. It’s a chilling and sombre moment that underlines how dire the reality is.
All three episodes of Louis Theroux: Dark States are available to stream now on BBC iPlayer.
Louis heads to the sunshine state for three documentaries in Los Angeles. LA Stories: City of Dogs takes a closer look at the city’s huge canine population; LA Stories: Edge of Life explores end of life care at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre in West Hollywood; and in LA Stories: Among the Sex Offenders, Louis looks at how California deals with sex offenders when they’re released from prison.
The serious subject matters explored in this series make it quite an intense watch, but the light moments are joyous, such as in City of Dogs… see below.
Best bit: In City of Dogs, Louis allows himself to be attacked by a big dog who almost takes his arm off. Thankfully, after catching his breath, Louis sees the funny side.
All three episodes of Louis Theroux's LA Stories are available to stream on BBC iPlayer now.
When Louis Met…
In the early 2000s, Louis started his When Louis Met show. It ran for two series and spawned some of Theroux’s most infamous and best-known documentaries, including interviews with Jimmy Savile and Max Clifford, as well as more savoury characters such as Keith Harris and Orville.
Speaking about the infamous Savile doc, Theroux told the Press Gazette earlier this year, “I still regard the Savile doc I did as a robust and hard-headed piece of programming,” adding that he considers himself “both the person who failed to reveal [Savile] as a paedophile, but also the person who probably revealed most about him while alive than anyone else.”
At the time, it was Theroux’s documentary with Neil and Christine Hamilton that looked controversial. During filming Louis got caught up in the whirlwind of a media storm surrounding the Hamilton’s sex scandal, which was later dropped and the accuser jailed.
Best bit: When Christine Hamilton, who at this point has already admitted to being a bit ‘saucy’, gets overfamiliar with Louis on the sofa.
Selected episodes of When Louis Met... are available to watch on BBC iPlayer now.
Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends
In 1998, Louis Theroux hit our screens with his Weird Weekends series, which ran from 1998 to 2000. He explored many different themes, from Christianity and UFOs to black nationalism and wrestling.
In one of the stand-out shows, Louis travels to New Orleans in the hope of making his mark on the gangsta rap scene, where he meets rappers including hip-hop heavyweight Master P, to learn how to rhyme.
Best bit: Louis puts all his lessons into practice on a radio show with DJ Wild Wayne, showcasing his rap skills with gems such as “ridin’ in my Fiat, you gotta see it.”
Episodes of Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends are available to stream on BBC iPlayer now.
BBC Two Specials
The majority of Louis Theroux’s documentaries are BBC specials. They tackle everything from life behind bars in notorious San Quentin prison in California to hunting holidaymakers in South Africa.
Plus, there’s special shows with Joe Exotic (before and after Tiger King fame), an attempt to secure an interview with Michael Jackson (after missing out to Martin Bashir and his historic documentary with the King of Pop in 2003), and another documentary about Savile (after his death) in 2016.
Theroux also tackles serious subjects such as dementia care, alcohol addiction and treatment for brain injuries.
However, one of his most notorious documentaries focuses on Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. The 2007 documentary is titled The Most Hated Family in America, and shines a light on Fred Phelps, his family and their Baptist Church, which holds abhorrent views on homosexuality (among other things). They even protested at U.S. military funerals to make their point heard.
Louis returned in 2011 for a follow up documentary, America’s Most Hated Family in Crisis, after members of the Phelps family left the organisation. Then in 2019, Surviving America’s Most Hated Family looked at how Westboro Baptist Church’s members have adapted since the death of founder Fred Phelps in 2014.
Best bit: The shocking moment when the young Westboro children join the protests and Louis calls out Shirley Phelps for grooming the children into her belief system.
Louis Theroux's BBC Two specials are available to stream on BBC iPlayer.