More stories about double lives
March 4, 2020 5:19 PM   Subscribe

I just finished watching Breaking Bad for the third time. One of things I like most about the show is its depiction of a person leading a double life. Where can I find more stories about double lives?

It can be fiction or non-fiction, books or tv shows. Movie recommendations are welcome but I prefer more longform stories.

Not so interested in stories of people who have two families, but I'll check out anything else. Doesn't have to be criminal, in fact I'd love to know any double lives that aren't criminal (can't imagine what that might be).
posted by daikon to Media & Arts (37 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Have you watched The Americans?
posted by ChuraChura at 5:21 PM on March 4, 2020 [24 favorites]

Seconding the AMERICANS. My phone autocorrected it to be all caps, and that is the correct response. If you like stories about double lives and secret identities, oh boy, it is for you. The entire Clark and Martha arc!!!!!!!!!!
posted by joyceanmachine at 5:23 PM on March 4, 2020 [9 favorites]

I don't know if this really fits your criteria, but I really enjoyed the documentary Searching for Sugarman (2012). Sixto Rodriguez, an obscure musician from Detroit, recorded two albums in the early 1970s. Sales were almost non-existent, and he didn't pursue a career in music. Unbeknownst to him (at least, until much later), his music became wildly popular in South Africa. His fans there didn't know anything about him, and many people assumed that he had died. Then in 1997, when the Internet was still relatively young, his daughter discovered a website dedicated to him, and Rodriguez learned of his superstar status in South Africa.
posted by JD Sockinger at 5:26 PM on March 4, 2020 [13 favorites]

Undercover is about the double lives of Dutch undercover agents who pretend to be a couple to buddy up to a drug kingpin. On Netflix, pretty good, based on a true story!
posted by dianeF at 5:32 PM on March 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

Good Girls - 3 suburban moms with financial problems rob a bank & start a life of crime.
The first 2 seasons are streaming on Netflix.
posted by belladonna at 5:52 PM on March 4, 2020 [2 favorites]

Content warning: It's dark but Tell Me Who I Am.. is... fascinating and I think relates to living something that isn't true or hiding an aspect of your life. Currently on Netflix.
posted by Crystalinne at 6:04 PM on March 4, 2020 [2 favorites]

Twin Peaks has some amount of this.

Alternatively, any narrative about a closeted LGBT person necessarily has this going on.
posted by bile and syntax at 6:05 PM on March 4, 2020

I’m really liking Living With Yourself on Netflix. The main character undergoes a spa treatment that he thinks will improve his life and ends up having to deal with a much more successful, cloned version of himself.
posted by FencingGal at 6:08 PM on March 4, 2020 [8 favorites]

I haven't watched it but I understand the show Weeds is about something like this.

Back when I was a kid browsing the local video store, I was fascinated by the box for this absolutely dreadful-sounding movie.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:09 PM on March 4, 2020 [4 favorites]

Dexter hasn’t been mentioned yet? Blood splatter analyst for Miami PD by day, serial killer (with standards) by...also day? The major tension of the show comes from him almost being found out way too many times.
posted by oxisos at 6:22 PM on March 4, 2020 [4 favorites]

'The Munsters'
posted by clavdivs at 6:23 PM on March 4, 2020

Chris Pavone's The Expats.
posted by ferret branca at 6:29 PM on March 4, 2020 [2 favorites]

Don Draper in Mad Men. He works for this on two levels: there's all the affairs he has, but also another plot element that is slowly revealed, and which I don't want to spoil, but I think this fits.
posted by litera scripta manet at 6:39 PM on March 4, 2020 [15 favorites]

I'm guessing you know about Better Call Saul, but that's more about evolving from one live to another (and then, I guess, yet another).

Bliss *is* about a guy with two families and trying to keep them from learning about each other. It's only one, six-episode season (so far) so wouldn't be a huge investment if it's not your thing.
posted by Twicketface at 7:16 PM on March 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

Tana French's The Likeness has its main character going undercover as a look-alike murder victim (who was previously living a double life of her own). Requires some initial suspension of disbelief, but there's a lot of chewy thematic stuff about the concept of identity. (Also thirding The Americans.)
posted by eponym at 7:50 PM on March 4, 2020 [2 favorites]

Thanks for the suggestions so far.

Can’t believe I forgot to mention The Americans, especially since I’m rewatching parts of it right now.
posted by daikon at 8:15 PM on March 4, 2020

Some works of fiction inspired by the real life Cambridge 5 spy scandal:

John Banville - The Untouchable
John le Carré - Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (the novel more than the film)
Alan Bennett - A Question of Attribution (play)

(I am most definitely not recommending Cambridge Spies, which is silly and has some surprisingly terrible acting from people who have gone on to do better things.)

I feel like the recent adaptation of The Night Manager leaned into the double lives thing with the main character.
posted by betweenthebars at 8:18 PM on March 4, 2020

It's a movie, but: True Lies. Though the 'civilian' side of Arnold's life kind of takes a back seat to his 'spy' life.
posted by SquidLips at 8:44 PM on March 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

David Cronenberg's A History of Violence.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 8:58 PM on March 4, 2020 [2 favorites]

There was a show in the late 90s called The Pretender where the protagonist took on a new identity/occupation in each episode while trying trying to evade capture and find his family. I’m not sure if it’s streaming anywhere, you might have to find some old DVD box sets on eBay.
posted by covercash at 9:07 PM on March 4, 2020 [3 favorites]

Robert Littell's Legends: A Novel of Dissimulation (2005). Should be right up your street, protagonist is a deep-cover operative who gets lost in his own legends. Well worth reading several times.
posted by unearthed at 10:30 PM on March 4, 2020

The first two seasons of Alias had a lot of this and were great fun. There was a precipitous decline into stupid after that and I think less of the double life thing.
posted by less of course at 11:16 PM on March 4, 2020 [3 favorites]

This is light-ish in tone, but The Best a Man Can Get by John O'Farrell is about a selfish man whose second life is a way to shirk his family responsibilities.
posted by Samarium at 1:13 AM on March 5, 2020

posted by james33 at 5:39 AM on March 5, 2020 [2 favorites]

U.K. crime drama "The Fall". Excellent. Disturbing.
posted by Ginesthoi at 6:38 AM on March 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

I haven't seen past the first season, and I get the impression that the story kind of changes after that, but season 1 of Orphan Black might fit the bill.

Another entry from the "secretly spies" sub-genre of double life fiction is Mr. and Mrs. Smith.
posted by helloimjennsco at 6:45 AM on March 5, 2020 [2 favorites]

The Pilot's Wife is the story of a woman who finds out about her husband's other family after he dies in a plane crash. Book, then made into a (probably Lifetime) movie.
posted by disconnect at 6:48 AM on March 5, 2020 [2 favorites]

I’m not even kidding: if you missed the original 1980s JEM cartoon series the first time around, it had this with a catchy pop soundtrack. It was created and produced entirely to sell dolls, but it accidentally turned out pretty good.
posted by armeowda at 8:34 AM on March 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

Sneaky Pete on Amazon Prime fits in this category.
posted by typecloud at 10:04 AM on March 5, 2020

Emmanuel_Carrère's book "The Adversary" (there's also a film version).
posted by Gortuk at 10:52 AM on March 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

The Talented Mr. Ripley in both film and book form.
posted by aspersioncast at 11:24 AM on March 5, 2020 [3 favorites]

The show Heros (I only liked the first season)
posted by hijol at 1:05 PM on March 5, 2020

How have we not yet mentioned Hannah Montana?! A double-life take with no crime!
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:21 PM on March 5, 2020

"But I'm only a vigilante hacker by night. By day, I'm just a regular cybersecurity engineer."

-S1E1, Mr. Robot
posted by queen anne's remorse at 8:07 PM on March 5, 2020

Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler is about a woman who walks out on her life and starts a new one in another town.
posted by emjaybee at 5:38 AM on March 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

If you like nonfiction, Skip Hollandsworth's journalism at Texas Monthly seems to specialize in this kind of story.

The Last Ride of Cowboy Bob - soft-spoken dutiful middle aged woman has double life as male-presenting bank robber.

See more at the excellent Longform Guide to Skip Hollandsworth.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 8:51 PM on March 6, 2020

Thanks everyone. These answers made me realize that a few of my favorite tv shows fit this criteria and I hadn't realized it (feeling a bit foolish about that).

It also reminded me that one of my favorite recent books is in part about a double life, so I want to share that for anyone who comes across this thread in the future. American Kingpin by Nick Bilton. It's about the man who created the Silk Road website. His double life isn't a big part of the book, in that it's not described in detail, but it's in the background throughout the whole book. Because no one in his life knew what he was doing. At the beginning he had a local programmer (an acquaintance, as I recall) help with coding but as soon as he asked too many questions about what he was coding, he told him he no longer needed his help. He told his girlfriend about the website at the very beginning but then told her he'd sold it and they eventually broke up.

So nobody in his real life helped him or knew what he was doing. He eventually got help from a few people he found online. An amazing story.
posted by daikon at 7:48 PM on March 10, 2020

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