The Newest Waco Showdown Is Between Netflix and Showtime

Jamie Lerner - Author

Apr. 17 2023, Published 2:33 p.m. ET

David Koresh in Netflix & Showtime series
Source: Netflix; Showtime

This year marks 30 years since the 51-day siege and stand-off in Waco, Texas, that shook people throughout America. A group of people led by David Koresh in their own Branch Davidian compound had a violent stand-off with the FBI in 1993. Now, Netflix and Showtime are cashing in on the anniversary with their takes on what happened in Waco.

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Netflix’s docuseries Waco: American Apocalypse premiered on March 22. Now, Showtime’s series Waco: The Aftermath premiered on April 16, with new episodes airing Sundays at 10 p.m. EST.

What’s the difference between the two series, and is it worth watching both?

ATF at the Waco Compound in Netflix's 'Waco: American Apocalypse'
Source: Netflix

ATF at the Waco compound in Netflix's 'Waco: American Apocalypse'

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The main difference between Netflix and Showtime’s series about Waco is that Netflix’s is a documentary.

While subjects may overlap between various streaming services, there are usually enough differences to tell the series apart. In 2019, two separate documentaries about the Fyre Festival came out on Netflix and Hulu, and the world couldn’t help but compare. The same happened with NXIVM in 2020 between HBO and Starz. So is it Waco’s turn in 2023? Not exactly.

While Netflix’s Waco: American Apocalypse is a documentary with never-before-seen footage of the incident and interviews with victims, Showtime’s Waco: The Aftermath is a dramatized limited series. This means that instead of authentic footage and interviews, Showtime’s series has actors portraying the characters involved, perhaps with some deviations from reality.

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David Thibodeau in Netflix's 'Waco: American Apocalypse'
Source: Netflix

Waco survivor David Thibodeau is interviewed in Netflix's 'Waco: American Apocalypse.'

In fact, Waco: The Aftermath is also a sequel. It follows Paramount’s 2018 series Waco, a fictionalized account of the 51-day siege (now on Netflix). The original series starred Taylor Kitsch as David Koresh and was set within those 51 days. The new series, however, is a bit more complicated. It picks up one year after the events of Waco — another deviation from the Netflix docuseries — to tell the story of what happened afterward.

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Alex Breaux as Timothy McVeigh in WACO: THE AFTERMATH
Source: Showtime

Alex Breaux as Timothy McVeigh in Showtime's 'Waco: The Aftermath'

In this retelling, the FBI still grapples with how they handled the siege, considering the public discourse that followed and the over 80 lives lost. There’s also a plotline that follows the trial of five Branch Davidian survivors who were tried on murder charges. In reality, 11 total Branch Davidians were tried, all of whom were acquitted.

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Another side of the Showtime series is that it tries to uncover what led to the events at Waco through flashbacks with Keean Johnson as a young David Koresh. And finally, we learn about how the Branch Davidians inspired a bank robber named Wild Bill. It’s unclear if Wild Bill is a real person, but if not, he’s based on many who were fired up by the Branch Davidians’ disregard for government authority.

Michael Luwoye as Livingstone Fagan and Keean Johnson as Vernon Howell in WACO: THE AFTERMATH
Source: Showtime

Michael Luwoye as Livingstone Fagan and Keean Johnson as Vernon Howell (aka David Goresh) in Showtime's 'Waco: The Aftermath'

There are some prominent differences between Netflix and Showtime’s 30th-anniversary Waco series, so for those interested in the stand-off, it could be worth watching both.

Even still, the Showtime series has plenty to cover in just five 42-minute episodes. Can they do it? Tune in Sundays at 10 p.m. EST on Showtime to see how it all plays out.

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