TV Review: ‘Eric’ is an unforgettable and bizarre new Netflix drama

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© Ludovic Robert | Netflix

If you’re not living under a rock, you might have seen the buzz around the new drop on Netflix. In this review for The Indiependent, Maisie Hancox explores the unforgettable drama.

★★★★½

Eric initially caught my attention from the trailer that plays as soon as you get to the streaming site’s homepage. The first thing of note is Benedict Cumberbatch. Fresh out of Hollywood films, and a well-known face in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, his return to TV was a quiet one, but welcome all the same. 

You would assume from his celebrity status and well-known audience that he plays the title role. It was an obvious guess that he would play ‘Eric’, however, it came to my surprise when I realised that Eric was not Cumberbatch’s character, but a blue monster-puppet. Sounds wild I know, but stick with me on this one. 

Cumberbatch instead plays Vincent, a puppeteer and creative who works on a children’s television show called ‘Good Day Sunshine’ which is not only seemingly inspired by the likes of Sesame Street and Elmo, but also a stark contrast to the overall gritty backdrop of the show itself. For a show like this, you don’t expect its establishing moments to take place in a brightly coloured, all-singing children’s haven, but that’s just one of the few reasons why the writing and production are phenomenal here.

The introduction to this colourful, innocent world through the eyes of child fans juxtaposes with the blatant disregarding attitude of Vincent, who we learn is a father to nine-year-old Edgar (Ivan Morris Howe); a keen drawer who seems inspired by his father and his work. Later in the episode, we realise their bond has potential from memories past but their relationship is very fractured. A scene where the family is at the dinner table demonstrates how Vincent is not only invalidating and arrogant at work, but alienates his wife Cassie (Gaby Hoffman) and is dismissive of his son. Shots cut from wine pouring into his cup to him waving his hands around, inexplicably demanding the attention is on him and his views. The next morning, in a bid to convey dominance over his son and wife by making a decision, he demands that Edgar walk himself to school. It is at this moment that the plot really kicks in as we are led to the main arc: Edgar’s disappearance. 

Edgar’s disappearance plummets the shiny puppet world to a perspective from fresh eyes: NYPD Detective Ledroit (McKinley Belcher III); a secretly homosexual man who is hiding himself whilst caring for his dying partner. His gentle nature and sceptical concern are reflective of how openly gay people were treated in the ‘80s- with scaremongering and fear. His sensitive nature contrasts in the red-lighted, seedy nightclub, Lux, which he is slyly investigating despite the fact the place is warmed with undercover Vice cops. Owned by an ex-con-man Gator, Ledroit is convinced his uneasy gut feelings surrounding the nightclub are correct. Unable to get anywhere in his investigation without fellow cops blocking his progress, Ledroit has pressure put on him by his captain but for every decision he tries to make the NYPD prevent him. 

Detective Ledroit (played by McKinley Belcher III) has had every obstacle thrown at him throughout his investigation into Edgar’s disappearance. | © Ludovic Robert / Netflix

This leads us to the unsolved disappearance of another boy. This time, fourteen-year-old African-American Marlon Rochelle, whose mother Cecile (played by Adepuro Oduye) rekindles the publicity around her son when she sees Edgar getting more attention from police and the public for being white. Ledroit had been trying to solve his murder for a year, but had every obstacle put in his way, this is unknown and unseen by Cecile who believes the force is automatically granting Edgar an investigation whilst having to chase one for her son. There are undertones of racial injustice and micro-aggressions by the Captain of the NYPD, who at times, treats Ledroit with contempt, whilst praising the Vice squad who spend more time in the Lux nightclub than doing work. 

The cinematography whilst dealing with Ledroit and Cecile’s storylines is second to none. The focus shots on Cecile’s face, as she waits in the police station in later episodes, contrast with a more uplifting scene which is both devastating and awakening to see as we get a first-hand account of her pain, but it’s not just hers. It’s the pain of every black Mother who has had to fight for their children to be seen and heard. The slow-moving shots in Ledroit’s apartment as his world crumbles close in on the fact that it was his one safe space to be vulnerable and openly in love with a man. 

These moving moments are actually a background to Vincent and Cassie dealing with Edgar’s disappearance. Vincent is drinking heavily and believes that if he puts Edgar’s puppet creation ‘Eric’ on the show, he will come home. It’s at this point that we learn that Vincent has schizophrenic tendencies which manifest through Eric, making the blue monster come on our screens when we least expect it. At times, the humour element of Eric feels ambitious and inappropriate, but it’s refreshing and adds a driving force to Vincent and Edgar’s wounded relationship. Eric is now the one thing they have in common — he is almost transactional. Edgar wants his father to acknowledge his creation and Vincent wants to use his creation to bring him home. 

Benedict Cumberbatch and Ivan Morris Howe star as father and missing son, Vincent and Edgar. | © Ludovic Robert / Netflix

Eric is truly an astounding piece of original Television — that much cannot be denied. A six-part drama crafted from the brilliant mind of Abi Morgan, a Welsh screenwriter known for her work on The Iron Lady. Her understanding and research of the time she has set Eric is second to none as throughout the episode you witness different storylines and social issues as they intertwine in the background of the main plot. 

The cast is fantastic and embrace their roles in a way that is authentic and raw, so much so it’s undeniable that awards will be won for the portrayals in this series. No doubt there will be space there for Cumberbatch, whose desperate self-reflecting and self-hatred overlaps with narcissism and addiction issues. It’s Benedict Cumberbatch as we’ve never seen him. Gaby Hoffman is robust and believable in her portrayal of Cassie; a grief-stricken mother who despite not having as much screen time as the others, packs a whole lot into her performance in a short space of time. However, it’s Belcher who really steals the show. His character is a driving force in creating emotional response. His peaceful yet determined expressions are intense but speak of his closeted love; his sacrifice to be himself for his career; and the sheer determination to seek justice for Cecile and her son. 

Eric is a unique and powerful swing from the mind of Abi Morgan, which has attracted unforgettable performances from a brilliant, if unexpected, cast. What’s more, this is a much more unique take on a decade and place we’re so used to seeing represented on screen. 

Normally when we see ’80s settings they are shiny and electric, but this is the polar opposite as we are gripped into a grey and unforgiving New York City. It’s an ambitious and risky take to combine so many stories into six parts, but it’s so unique that it’s something you need to experience for yourself before doubting its charm. It’s worth a watch even if at times the nature of it combines the dark and bizarre. 

You can stream all six episodes of Eric on Netflix now. 

Words by Maisie Hancox


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