RYann Murphy was supposed to be Netflix’s big-hitting, hit-making super-producer, able to turn every new show into an international event. It’s fair to say that hasn’t quite ended — none of his Netflix shows have landed anywhere else with the impact of his series — and now we’ve reached a new nadir. Murphy’s latest series, titled Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, appeared out of nowhere on Netflix this week, with nothing to fanfare.
The asphalt just arrived. There was no premiere. No media were allowed previews, none of the stars of the show were made available for interviews. You wouldn’t be forgiven for not knowing it existed until you caught the spectacular trailer that slid online five days before the show’s release.
Usually, this is a sign that a stage wants to bury a show. This indicates the possibility that the series was commissioned in good faith, but that something went so wrong along the way. Netflix Thought it would be best to get as little attention as possible.
And that may be because, by accident or by design, Dahmer is almost an astounding show. A biopic of Jeffrey Demar, a man who killed (and sometimes ate) 17 victims over a 13-year period from the 1970s to the 1990s, the series is almost cleverly incompetent. The first few episodes in particular are a showcase of every worst trend the true crime drama genre has to offer.
Long, lengthy sections of the series pass without any insight or analysis, instead only letting things beat horribly as if Wikipedia decided to fund the dramatization of all its worst entries. The show seems to be aware of this as well, cutting itself into a fragmented chronology as a way to distract you from its brutal procession of murders.
Evan Peters, usually so good elsewhere, plays Demar in a way that’s really confusing, as if he accidentally saw Joe Pera Talks With You as part of his research process. Even its look is borderline exploitative, like the fuzzy, desaturated feel of a disappointing Saw sequel.
The worst part, in part, is the show’s choice of focus. What the murder of Ryan Murphy shows – especially the murder of Gianni Versace – is great to reclaim the lives of the victims. By killing, the legacy of these people is looted. It doesn’t matter who they are, or what they did. They will always be a picture and a name in the queue of victims, an entire existence completely defined by how it ended. One good thing a show like this can do is steal the spotlight from the killer and show who these people really were. But for the most part, Dahmer is unfortunately too impressed with his star attraction to make up for it.
Dahmer is undoubtedly the fetish here. The filth of his apartment is lying just below the blood stain on the mattress. We see him bite his first fish, dismembering the creature with excruciating gynecology, so that he can see its organs. We see her topless and sweaty. We see her masturbating again and again. There is a sequence where Dahmer takes a shop mannequin to bed and gratefully likes it, while Please Don’t Go by Casey and the Sunshine Band plays in the background.
In fairness, the series improves towards the end. In the latter, monofocus shifts and Jeffrey Demar retreats into the background. One episode is dedicated to the life of Anthony Hughes, a deaf man who died at the hands of Demar. We also see that the murders had an effect on Dahmer’s parents, which allows Richard Jenkins (who plays Dahmer’s father) to give a barnstormer of a performance. Jesse Jackson appears, putting the story in a more political perspective (after all, one of the reasons Dahmer stayed away for so long was the police’s tendency to address the legitimate concerns of the black community).
But it comes after five long hours of deep restlessness of surface-level viscera. A show about the worst of humanity shouldn’t be amusing to watch, but Demar seems actively obsessed with how obnoxious it is, as if it had the sole purpose of making it. No wonder Netflix didn’t want to publicize it.
Again, at the time of writing, Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story was Netflix’s most-watched series, so goes for showing what I know. Who needs nuance when there’s a blood hungry audience?