TV Review: Baby Reindeer – 9/10

‘There’s nothing like getting everything you want in life to realise it’s not for you...’

It’s perhaps inevitable that in the age of people broadcasting their lives across social media that art will become more confessional and personal. We live in an era in which the most popular recording artist in the world basically turns her diary entries into songs and people love to pore over the details to try to figure out who they are about. As making any kind of feature film is still so potentially financially ruinous, this more authentic storytelling style has yet to translate to the risk averse world of cinema, but TV has embraced this cultural shift in recent years with shows such as Fleabag and I May Destroy You both becoming instant overnight success stories. Baby Reindeer arrived on Netflix in April to much fanfare and controversy, and it’s easy to see why it has caused such a stir. This is truly groundbreaking television…

Baby Reindeer started out life as an Edinburgh stage show in which comedian and writer Richard Gadd attempted to make sense of a stalking incident that took place over a number of years and left him feeling drained and defeated. Gadd reprises the role here (renamed as Donny Dunn) and we begin with Donny’s eventual stalker Martha (Jessica Gunning) arriving at the London pub in which he works and promptly having a breakdown. Donny offers Martha a free cup of tea to cheer her up, not realising that this simple act of kindness will have disastrous consequences.

I won’t go into the plot much here as this is absolutely a TV show that demands to be viewed with as little prior knowledge as possible, but I will say that this is courageous and innovative storytelling. Gadd folds in missives on sexual abuse, the lonliness of moving to a big city and toxic masculinity in to this ostensabily simple stalking story, and the result is a TV show that is moving, darkly humourous and incredibly bleak in places. The much lauded fourth episode provides a detailed breakdown of grooming and eventual sexual assault in a starkly matter-of-fact way that left me utterly dazed afterwards. It’s a powerful and unforgettable episode of television that surely rivals anything that has or will be released within the medium this year. Simply stunning.

While Gadd himself is revelatory in the lead role, delivering a performance that is both vulnerable and assured, Gunning is equally as impressive as Martha. Gadd goes to great lengths to ensure that Martha is fully fleshed out and three dimensional whilst also never letting himself off the hook. Donny is far from perfect. In fact, much of his turmoil he brings upon himself – something that he acknowledges in an incredible onstage monologue in the show’s wonderfully crafted penultimate episode.

Baby Reindeer is groundbreaking and courageous and all the rest of it, but more important than that even, it’s just excellent television. Captivating, compelling and utterly unique. The best TV show of the year.

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