The Watcher – A Seven-Hour Thriller About The Evil Serial Letter Writer

SERIES REVIEW – Jennifer Coolidge, Bobby Cannavale, Naomi Watts and Mia Farrow are phenomenal in Netflix’s latest true crime series. But nothing can save it from being completely forgettable. In any case, it tells us why we should have a spam filter on our real mail.

 

 

At this stage of his career, Ryan Murphy is cruising at two speeds: real-life stories (Feud, Halston, American Crime Story, Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story) and horror (Ratched, American Horror Story). So you can imagine the absolute delight he must have felt when he first read Reeves Wiedeman’s 2018 New York Magazine article The Watcher, which inspired the English-language series of the same name, The Watcher.

 

The article told the story of the Broaddus family, who, after purchasing their dream home in Westfield, New Jersey, are plagued by sinister letters from an unknown correspondent (whose creepy pseudonym is, you guessed it, The Watcher) who informs the family that their every move is being watched. The letters, filled with deliberately disturbing passages (“I am 657 Boulevard. I am not responsible. I’m brushing off the bad stuff and waiting for the good stuff to come back. You will not punish me. I will rise again”) seemed to be an attempt to scare the family into leaving the house.

The story has been made into a film, also called The Watcher, which was released in 2016 but was quickly forgotten.

 

 

Middle Grade

 

Regarding the quality of this series, I would put it somewhere in the upper-medium category of Ryan Murphy’s work. You can feel throughout that Murphy and his collaborators know how stupid the source material is. While they never fully descend into parody, there are moments that (I hope intentionally) border on Mel Brooks.

It’s typical of the kind of show whose makers really want us to know that anyone could be behind the terrifying ‘serial letter writing’ and they achieve this by portraying the supporting characters as caricatures, such as the odd, identically dressed neighbours, the simultaneously terrifying and ridiculous local historian couple (one played by Mia Farrow) who are constantly interfering with the house renovations.

 

 

Not a wonderhouse

 

It’s also kind of funny that the Broaddus’ house is by no means an attractive house – at least not as much of a miracle as everyone is enamoured by it. On the outside it looks like Tony Soprano’s McMansion, and on the inside it’s full of secret rooms, hidden tunnels, pianos that seem to play themselves, and a mentally handicapped character who is the son of a female local historian played by Mia Farrow. Any sane family would spend less than a microsecond there before becoming frightened and fleeing.

At least the characters are completely insane. Here, the Broaddus family is Bobby Cannavale, Naomi Watts and their photogenic young children. The neighbours are played by Margot Martindale, Richard Kind and the aforementioned Mia Farrow, with Noma Dumezweni as a rather mysterious and eccentric private investigator. Jennifer Coolidge is a real estate agent. And without exception, they all get the chance to do exactly what they do best. Farrow is spooky and creepy, Watts is fragile and paranoid, and Coolidge seems to have walked onto the set by accident as if she was made for a completely different show than everyone else. More than anything, it’s this cast that holds The Watcher together.

 

 

Not very remarkable

 

In truth, though, it’s understandable why Lifetime jumped on the story first. If you discount the phenomenal acting and some of the creative choices made to pitch the source material, you’re left with a seven-hour thriller about a writing machine. Cannavale raves about the envelopes for almost a full working day.

The Watcher is a far cry from the bold, groundbreaking original series Netflix has previously conjured seemingly out of thin air. At times, it has the unfortunate feel of a cheesy nineties ITV drama playing in the background on TV in a seedy nightclub. If you’re looking for a sophisticated and slightly creepy thriller, you’d better check it out, there’s a rich streaming selection on Netflix.

-BadSector-

The Watcher

Direction - 4.8
Actors - 8.2
Story - 2.8
Visuals/Suspense - 2.4
Ambience - 5.2

4.7

AVERAGE

The Watcher is a far cry from the bold, groundbreaking original series Netflix has previously conjured seemingly out of thin air. At times, it has the unfortunate feel of a cheesy nineties ITV drama playing in the background on TV in a seedy nightclub. If you're looking for a sophisticated and slightly creepy thriller, you'd better check it out, there's a rich streaming selection on Netflix.

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BadSector is a seasoned journalist for more than twenty years. He communicates in English, Hungarian and French. He worked for several gaming magazines – including the Hungarian GameStar, where he worked 8 years as editor. (For our office address, email and phone number check out our impressum)