Stream It Or Skip It: ‘FBI True’ on Paramount+, Featuring Real Insights From Real Agents On Real Big Cases 

FBI True (Paramount+), a new docuseries from the co-creator of FBI on CBS, features conversations between FBI special agents and other personnel about cases they’ve worked, dangers they’ve encountered, and all of the other on the job details that they’ve lived in the line of duty. The ten episodes include such major incidents as the 2016 Manhattan bombings, the hunt for Whitey Bulger, the Beltway snipers, and David Koresh and the siege at Waco.


Opening Shot: Agitated pedestrians, running NYPD personnel, and vehicles parked every which way on a street in Manhattan. “It’s the middle of the goddamn night, we don’t have him, and we’re finding bombs in public transit places.”

The Gist: “In the FBI,” a narrator says, “we make a lot of headlines,” and footage of federal tactical teams stopping cars and busting through doors mixes with clips from TV and movies, everybody from Special Agent Fox Mulder to Tom Hanks in Catch Me if You Can and a chase scene from a network procedural. “We understand why people want to tell stories about us. But they don’t know the half of it.”  

Enter the Arts & Crafts Beer Parlor, a bar nearby the FBI’s New York City HQ, where retired Supervisory Special Agent Cindy Coppola sits down with John Miller, former director of FBI public affairs in New York, and Chuck Berger, a retired member of the city’s Joint Terrorism Task Force. In 2016, Miller and Berger were instrumental in the inter-agency effort to locate the perpetrator of a series of bombing attacks across New York and New Jersey, and together they recount for Coppola the tense atmosphere surrounding the investigation.

As world leaders gathered at the UN downtown, an improvised explosive device detonated in Seaside Heights, near Newark, followed by the discovery of another IED on a Manhattan street. It was a pressure cooker, cemented shut, with a cell phone taped on top and red wires all over. In other words, trouble in motion for the FBI. Who put them there? Why? And where would they strike next?

Miller and Berger describe how cell phone data connected a suspect, Ahmad Khan Rahimi, who they now needed to locate. “There’s no part of the intelligence community that isn’t pulling threads on, where did this guy travel? Who does he know? Who does he call?” And with the discovery of another bomb, their dragnet closes around the man, who engages law enforcement in a desperate bid to escape.  

Photo: Paramount+

What Shows Will It Remind You Of? FBI True executive producer Craig Turk conceived of the series as a real-life equivalent to the procedural style of FBI, the CBS drama he co-created with Dick Wolf of Law & Order fame. FBI has been so successful that it spawned two spinoffs, FBI: Most Wanted and FBI: International.   

Our Take: The half-hour installments of FBI True don’t allow for a full reckoning with a case, from reports of an incident to authorities’ initial response, their investigation, and all of the eventual outcomes. (This is made clear by the Waco siege and the Alabama bunker hostage crisis, which encompass two episodes each.) But in lieu of revealing every gritty detail in these cases, FBI True highlights personal insights from the agents interviewed. And together with the whole thing being shot in a New York City bar, complete with pints of beer being quaffed, there’s a bit more individuality on display here than what the same federal agents might offer if they were interviewed in their professional capacity for any of the true crime documentaries that proliferate streaming services. 

It’s also smart to have an experienced FBI agent conducting the on-camera portion of the interviews. There are very few leading questions. Instead, the sense in FBI True is of professionals interacting as equals, sharing stories. One of the highlights of “The Manhattan Bomber” is when John Miller describes the tenor of the joint operations center, as representatives from the FBI and multiple agencies formulated a plan to nab their suspect. While we’ve watched a similar sequence hundreds and hundreds of times in television procedurals, the one described here was entirely real. 

Sex and Skin: Nothing here.

Parting Shot: Not every FBI agent gets the glamorous frontline job. In the aftermath of Rahimi’s terror spree, the agency tracked dumpsters to landfills in an effort to locate materials and accessories used by the bomber. Has a scene featuring an FBI special agent digging through piles of garbage ever made it to a network procedural? 

Sleeper Star: Pour one out for the FBI robot that made the ultimate sacrifice after it was destroyed while investigating one of the extremely unstable IEDs built by Ahmad Khan Rahimi. Retired agents Miller and Berger assure their interviewer Coppola that it “got a full robot funeral.” 

Most Pilot-y Line: Even from the limited intelligence available, the FBI knew their suspect had a talent for violence. “It’s not just a guy who went on the internet and figured out how to make a bomb. This seems to be a skilled bomb maker who knows how to make a number of different kinds of devices.” 

Our Call: STREAM IT. With the benefit of brevity, FBI True can focus its half-hour installments on the personalities and professional capabilities of the special agents involved, which in the resulting interviews offers unique insight into the high profile cases the series covers.

Johnny Loftus is an independent writer and editor living at large in Chicagoland. His work has appeared in The Village Voice, All Music Guide, Pitchfork Media, and Nicki Swift. Follow him on Twitter: @glennganges