Eric TV Review

Benedict Cumberbatch and Gaby Hoffman lead a powerful yet bleak fantasy mystery from creator Abi Morgan.

Eric review

PLOT: Vincent, one of New York’s leading puppeteers and creator of the hugely popular children’s television show, ‘Good Day Sunshine,’ struggles to cope with the loss of his son, Edgar, becoming increasingly distressed and volatile. Full of self-loathing and guilt around Edgar’s disappearance, he clings to his son’s drawings of a blue monster puppet, ERIC, convinced that if he can get ERIC on TV then Edgar will come home. As Vincent’s progressively destructive behaviour alienates his family, his work colleagues, and the detectives trying to help him, it’s Eric, a delusion of necessity, who becomes his only ally in the pursuit to bring his son home.

REVIEW: The idea behind Eric, as depicted in the trailer for the series, is a fascinating concept. A man driven to the edge of sanity after the disappearance of his son bonds with an imaginary monster created by his child to rescue him. This in and of itself would have been a great idea for a woefully underdeveloped story in the final six-part series. With a challenging character played by Benedict Cumberbatch, Eric combines two very different narratives that each could have worked had they been the story’s primary focus. Instead, Eric fails to deliver either while wasting a cast full of solid performances, including excellent turns by Gaby Hoffman, Dan Fogler, and McKinley Belcher III. Wallowing in the dark and depressing reality of broken families, childhood trauma, repressed sexuality, and urban homelessness, Eric is a fantastic and fantastical idea that never comes together in a way that lives up to its potential.

Eric opens with Vincent Anderson (Benedict Cumberbatch) working as the creator and lead puppeteer on the Sesame Street-esque kid’s show Good Day Sunshine in New York City. Vincent is abrasive, rude, and demanding of his preteen son Edgar (Ivan Morris Howe), which triggers fights between Vincent and his wife Cassie (Gaby Hoffman). Edgar retreats into his imagination and comes up with a new puppet monster named Eric that he wants his dad to add to the television show. When Edgar disappears on the way to school, the investigation into his disappearance becomes city-wide news, especially since Vincent is the son of major real estate developer Arthur Anderson (John Doman). As Vincent and Cassie’s marriage falls apart, Vincent retreads into drugs, alcohol, and mental illness, which projects Eric as a physical presence who talks to him. Vincent becomes convinced that Edgar will come home if he builds a real Eric for the show, which strains his personal and professional relationships.

If that narrative was the driving force of Eric, the series would have been fascinating. Instead, Eric splits between Vincent’s downward spiral and the police investigation into Edgar’s disappearance. Detective Michael Ledroit (McKinley Belcher III) is a former vice cop working on missing persons who still contend with a year-long cold case on a black teenager named Marlon who was never found. Because Edgard Anderson is white and from a prominent family, Ledroit feels the pressure on the case from his boss, Captain Cripp (David Denman). There are also many connections between Edgar’s disappearance and the recent raids on city sex clubs, as well as the push by politicians like Deputy Mayor Costello (Jeff Hephner) that are pushing the entirety of New York City to the brink. The police investigation that Ledroit leads begins to draw lines between the cops, the criminals, the victims, and the upper one percent in a way that hews closer to a series like The Wire rather than a surreal psychological fantasy thriller. Couple that with the focus on Ledroit’s personal life, and the series sometimes feels like it was misnamed, as Eric is more of a secondary element of this story.

Eric review

As I watched the first episode of Eric, I was invested in the performances, especially Benedict Cumberbatch’s layered portrayal of a broken man who struggles with addiction but also mental illness and daddy issues. Cumberbatch is a great actor and as I progressed through each episode, it became increasingly hard to like Vincent. Every decision Vincent makes forces the audience to dislike the character more and more, eventually making the redemption and resolution of the story feel hollow and unearned. There is also a slew of supporting characters including Vincent’s best friend Lennie (Dan Fogler), building super George (Clarke Peters), club owner Gator (Wade Allain-Marcus), and puppeteers Ellis (Chloe Claudel) and Ronnie (Roberta Colindrez) who exist merely to serve as fodder to pad the story in directions it never seems to invest in, resulting in each episode forcing in red herrings and misdirects that undermine the core mystery Eric is trying to portend. Even Eric himself, voiced by Cumberbatch, never works in the story to the degree the trailers want you to think.

Series creator Abi Morgan, who wrote all six episodes, has a solid record as a playwright and screenwriter, having penned Steve McQueen’s Shame and Meryl Streep’s acclaimed The Iron Lady. All six episodes of Eric were directed by Lucy Forbes, who manages to evoke the grime of mid-1980s New York City with period-appropriate production values and a nice soundtrack of retro tunes. Eric benefits from having a single writer and filmmaker to keep the story looking and feeling consistent, but that does not change the fact that the limited series is too long and scattered. I went along for the ride for the first three hour-long chapters until the direction of the story began to come together. The final three episodes pepper in the reveals bit by bit while having Benedict Cumberbatch, Gaby Hoffman, and McKinley Belcher III repeat actions and decisions they made in earlier episodes, giving the story a rote and redundant feel that careens towards a final episode that plows through resolving the story without it feeling earned in the least. Because this story takes its time for five hours and then rushes through the sixth, I felt cheated out of what could have been a great story.

I think a brilliant idea at the core of Eric is covered with subplots and a thematic message that overwhelms one story with a different one. Abi Morgan has two main ideas that conflict with one another and make Benedict Cumberbatch and the title character feel secondary in their show. Maybe each idea had enough to warrant a full series, but we will never know based on the finished product. Some creative production design and puppet characters are underutilized in a series that is nowhere near as good as the trailers want you to believe. This dark, depressing, unfunny series could have been a masterpiece if it had any idea of what it was trying to be. I am sure some people will disagree with me and may love Eric, but I have not felt this misled by a trailer in a long time.

Eric premieres on May 30th on Netflix.

Eric

BELOW AVERAGE

5

Source: JoBlo.com

About the Author

5917 Articles Published

Alex Maidy has been a JoBlo.com editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. A Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic and a member of Chicago Indie Critics, Alex has been JoBlo.com's primary TV critic and ran columns including Top Ten and The UnPopular Opinion. When not riling up fans with his hot takes, Alex is an avid reader and aspiring novelist.