Before every documentary was about a murder, a series of murders, or a series of unsolved murders, history documentaries were the thing.
You couldn't move for the number of history documentaries there were. You had Ken Burns churning out documentaries on the Civil War, World War II, and even the War on Alcohol (Prohibition, basically). 'How To Become A Tyrant' covers ground that's been covered many, many times before. The approach, however, is one that tries to make history and the rise of fascism fun. By wheeling in 'Game of Thrones' alum Peter Dinklage and his deep baritone to give instructional tidbits on how to become a tyrant, the documentary seeks to draw lines between dictators throughout history.
Saddam Hussein, Adolf Hilter, Benito Mussolini, Idi Amin - each of them used an invisible step-by-step guide that the documentary series lays out over six episodes at thirty-odd minutes a pop. The talking head interviews are intercut with lively archival footage and glossy animated sequences, all of which tie together to explain how tyrants seized power, the various methods in which that seizure took place, and so on.
Being that history documentaries were once so populace, trying to apply flashy new techniques and editing styles to well-worn topics might seem like a good idea. Really though, 'How To Become A Tyrant' offers no unique perspectives or new approaches to history. In fact, the whole instructional format is something that doesn't particularly fit the idea. All you've got are a few interstitials with a leather-bound book, Peter Dinklage drily explaining the atrocities carried out by tyrants and dictators, and then a talking head expert repeating back those same facts. Stretching that out over six episodes, even if they're paced at thirty minutes a go, means the concept begins to wear thin very quickly.
It's not that 'How To Become A Tyrant' is offensively bad, or that it misrepresents any of the facts of history. Quite the opposite, in fact. It is educational in that it reminds us that there are those today who frequently use the same instructional manual to seize power and solidify power. As a six-part documentary series, however, 'How To Become A Tyrant' suffers from an identity crisis. It's trying to make the concept of history and the horrific rise of fascism fun and entertaining, but never shies away from those same horrors. The result is that it's something muddled, unclear, and ultimately, forgettable.