'Waco' Is a Hard-to-Watch Series About a Must-Watch News Event

The Paramount network's first scripted drama is good, but brutal.

It’s been 25 years since 76 members of a religious sect died, horribly, in a fire at their rural Texas compound following a 51-day standoff with law enforcement. At the time, the Waco Seige dominated headlines, and updates on the status of the standoff were must-see-TV back when 24-hour news networks were still young. Waco, the new six-part miniseries that dramatizes the fall of the Branch Davidians, is equally as compelling to watch. It’s also extremely unpleasant, because it doesn’t shy away from brutal violence or the uncomfortable reality that this was more than just the story of some crazy cultists.

Tonight, at 10 pm eastern, Waco becomes the first scripted drama on the Paramount Network, a newly rebranded channel that emerged from the ashes of the bro-centric Spike. The limited series is so serious that it’s almost a mission statement: “We are not the Ultimate Fighting or Stripperella channel anymore.” This could be a problem, as television isn’t lacking ultra-grave and serious dramas, but Waco’s handling of a tragic, fascinating, and misunderstood event in fairly recent history elevate things.

Taylor Kitsch of Friday Night Lights fame stars as the leader of the Branch Davidians, David Koresh. He’s skinny, and sporting a distinctly ‘90s (and slightly off-putting) mullet, but you can tell Koresh is a charmer, in his own way. Deeply smart, charismatic, and devoted, showrunners Drew and John Erick Dowdle chose to depict Koresh as a likable person, rather than just the dead cult leader he’s remembered as. But, he still was a cult leader, and Waco deftly toes the line of making him sympathetic even as he’s marrying multiple women, possibly having children with his underage wives, and stockpiling illegal guns.

Those upsetting aspects of Koresh’s religious sect were what got the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives interested, and they wanted to raid this kooky cult to score a much-needed PR win. This didn’t go as planned, and due to a series of blunders and miscommunications, things turned deadly. The 51-day siege is the most endearing aspect of the Waco story, but the miniseries unflinchingly confronts viewers with a bloody and horrifying firefight, one that left several dead on both sides.

Article continues below

Waco doesn’t fully paint the ATF or FBI as the real bad guys, though. Michael Shannon’s FBI negotiator Gary Noesner wants to understand the Branch Davidians, and desperately wants to avoid further bloodshed. Sadly, there’s not enough of that understanding to go around, and Waco agonizingly shows how that, in and of itself, is a tragedy.


This is not The People v. O. J. Simpson, another recent look at a big ‘90s event. That great show had dramatic moments and offered insights into the case that, in some respects, defined the time period, but it was fun to watch. (David Schwimmer sure said “Juice” a bunch of times while playing Kim Kardashian’s dad!) Waco doesn’t have that.

The biggest thing missing from popular conceptions of the Waco Seige was the graphic understanding of how senseless and sad all everything was. If Waco’s hard to watch, that’s kind of the point. It always should’ve been hard to watch. 

Waco premieres on Wednesday at 10 p.m. Eastern on the Paramount Network.

Media via Paramount, Paramount Network

Frank Castle’s second outing is finally on Netflix in Season 2 of Marvel’s The Punisher. But in light of the Marvel/Netflix universe becoming a falling sky scenario, fans may be curious as to wonder whether or not Netflix will renew The Punisher for Season 3. While the series has a wide-open ending, the decision is apparently left only to Netflix.

It’s been over a month since Nintendo unleashed Super Smash Bros. Ultimate onto the world, and as more professional players share their early tiers lists it’s quickly become clear which characters are best and which kind of stink. Now, with three new Smash Bros. Ultimate tier lists from three of the top players around, it’s becoming clear that one character is far and away the top pick in competitive Smash.

Now that we’ve reached Fortnite: Battle Royale Season 7, Week 7, the mysterious Expedition Outposts have once again become the focus of a new challenge.

Week 7 began Thursday morning, and none of the new challenges are all that creative or unique, but one that players definitely need a map for is “Visit all Expedition Outposts.” On the plus side, the new challenge does confirm reports from earlier this season that there are only seven of them.

M Night Shyamalan blew our collective minds with the post-credits scene at the end of Split, revealing that the movie we had just watched took place in the same world as his 2000 masterpiece Unbreakable. Now that the third film in the long-promised trilogy is here, the question remains: Does Glass have a post-credits scene? And is it worth sticking around after the credits roll? Here’s what you need to know. (No spoilers, we swear).