The old adage tells us that truth is stranger than fiction, but it leaves out the most important part -- real life also makes for inventive, engaging, and oftentimes downright moving television.
While docudramas like National Geographic's "American Genius" or hyper-real period pieces like "Vikings" wear their real-life influences on their very austere sleeves, it's often the subtler slices of life that really get under the skin. Take a look at some TV that seems too good to be true, but is anyway.
'Orange Is the New Black' (2013 - )
It may come as a shock that the electrifying and oftentimes audacious behind-bars adventures of Piper, Alex, and company trace their roots back to a memoir. That's right: "Orange Is the New Black" is based on the aptly titled Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison by -- you guessed it -- the very real Piper Kerman , the model for Taylor Schilling's Piper Chapman.
So how close is OITNB to reality, you ask? Well, Kerman really did serve more than a year in prison for laundering drug money, but the fictional Piper's relationship with Alex Vause (in real life, Cleary Wolters) is largely exaggerated -- speaking to Vanity Fair, Wolters says the show's Piper-Alex sex scenes are "not even a little bit" true. But that doesn't mean we're going to stop crushing on Laura Prepon. You can't take that away from us, reality.
'The Goldbergs' (2013 - )
If sex, drugs, and shanking get a little too real for you, "The Goldbergs" might strike a sweeter, but equally loud, chord. An autobiographical sitcom created by real-life screenwriter Adam F. Goldberg ("Fanboys"), the show follows a group of budding young writers through their boisterous 1980s childhoods, complete with family dysfunction that's so over the top it can only be real.
In contrast to OITNB, Goldberg says "The Goldbergs" is actually a little toned down from the real deal. "My family is a lot cruder, a lot louder," he told Forward in 2015. But the '80s-tastic home videos that end each episode are real as can be; Dad really did drop trou every time he came home from work; Adam's mixtape from the season two opener "Love Is a Mixtape" is so real, you can listen to it whenever you want. Not that you'd want to.
'American Crime Story' (2016 - )
Now that "Making a Murderer" has run its course, what can possibly fill that true-crime-shaped hole in your heart? The answer is "American Crime Story." If you were alive in the '90s, we hardly need tell you that the first season's arc -- "The People v. O.J. Simpson" -- is based on a very real event, but with prettier people filling in for their living counterparts, like Cuba Gooding Jr. as O.J. and John Travolta as his defense lawyer, Robert Shapiro.
If season one didn't leave you sated, get ready for season two, which shifts the focus from courtroom drama to recent historical tragedy -- the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. And while a pop-cultural legal phenomenon and a tragic natural disaster may seem like disparate subjects, they have at least two things in common: They're both socially relevant examinations of American history, and the both make for damn fine television.
- The Real Life Stories Behind "Orange Is the New Black"
- "The Goldbergs" Were Even Crazier in Real Life
- Reel to Real: "American Crime Story": "People v. O.J. Simpson" Cast and Their Real-Life Subjects
- "American Crime Story": Hurrican Katrina Set for Season 2 After Success of "People v. O.J. Simpson"