Mondays at 9pm or watch the whole series now on Sky or Virgin
1. IT'S A MIND-BOGGLING TRUE STORY
We've all developed a ravenous appetite for true crime stories in recent years. From podcasts that unravel cold cases to hard-hitting TV shows about the killing of Gianni Versace, the hunt for the Unabomber and the OJ Simpson case, there's been a lot to feast on. But Waco, a new addition to the banquet, is more than just another true crime series: it's also the story of a strange religious movement, a wild-haired rock star messiah, a deadly siege, and events which have gone done in modern American folklore.
2. IT'S ABOUT A VERY UNLIKELY PROPHET
It was back in 1993 that the word Waco, once simply the name of a city in Texas, became instantly synonymous with a bullet-strewn skirmish between Federal officers and a religious movement led by a man calling himself David Koresh. They had locked themselves in their compound, coming under assault by the Feds after rumours got out about alleged sexual abuse at the compound - not to mention the fact that Koresh was stockpiling vast amounts of weapons, as if preparing for a militant uprising.
Koresh's group was an off-shoot of an off-shoot of an off-shoot, with its roots in the relatively widespread Seventh-Day Adventist Church, a Protestant denomination of US origin which observes Saturday as the Sabbath and emphasises healthy living. In the late 1920s came the first off-shoot: the Davidians, who splintered off from the Seventh-Day Adventists to follow their own path. This group later produced another off-shoot, the Branch Davidians, which in turn birthed a small band of true believers following David Koresh. Like Charles Manson, Koresh was a frustrated rock star with enough inexplicable charisma to bring many others under his sway - to the point where his male followers agreed to remain celibate even as Koresh helped himself to their wives and girlfriends. And, while he wasn't as overtly malevolent as Manson, his actions would lead to a staggering amount of death and destruction. Waco, the series, follows the chain of events that would come to such a lethal conclusion.
3. IT HAS A GREAT CAST
Waco comes with some serious acting talent, with True Detective and X-Men star Taylor Kitsch giving a richly layered performance as David Koresh. With his flamboyant mullet and religious fervour, not to mention his unintentionally hilarious pronouncements (such as when he humbly says he's "assumed the burden of sex" on behalf of his male followers), Koresh could have been easy to turn into a cartoon character - a mad preacher with a guitar and a messiah complex - but Taylor Kitsch brings so much depth that Koresh becomes strangely sympathetic. You can see exactly why his followers became caught up in such hero worship of the man.
Then there's the great Michael Shannon as the FBI negotiator tasked with handling the mess at Waco. Famed for his roles in Boardwalk Empire, Take Shelter and Man of Steel, Shannon's usual setting as an actor is "intense" (he's a bit like Jack Nicholson that way), but in Waco he gives us a brooding, understated performance as a thoughtful man up against trigger-happy colleagues who want to shoot first and ask questions later. Look out as well for John Leguizamo, Melissa "Supergirl" Benoist and Rory Culkin - yep, Macaulay's brother.
4. IT'S RIVETINGLY RELEVANT
The series doesn't just take in the Waco siege. It also looks at the Ruby Ridge incident - a deadly confrontation between armed Federal agents and a religious family who'd isolated themselves from society in the Idaho woodlands. This incident, along with what happened at Waco, galvanised anti-government fervour in the US, particularly among radical right-wingers, white nationalists, libertarians and conspiracy theorists. In fact, one of the crowd of protestors close to Waco during the siege was an angry young man called Timothy McVeigh, who would later orchestrate the Oklahoma City bombing against a government building, killing over 168 people.
While these events all took place in the 1990s, they set the stage for the culture wars to come - our current era of angry talking head pundits, "fake news", conspiracy-led paranoia, growing religious zeal, cynicism towards governments, and violent clashes between progressives and white radicals is, in many ways, a product of the era of Waco. It's just another reason why this series, while set decades ago, is more timely than ever.