Will director Ryan Murphy’s Jeffrey Dahmer be the most exploited TV show of 2022?

RThe biggest producer of Netflix was yan Murphy, the hugely successful superhero producer who was able to turn every new show into an international event. It’s fair to say that this isn’t quite over – none of his shows on Netflix have completely affected the impact of his series elsewhere – and now it looks like we’ve hit a new rock bottom. Murphy’s latest series, Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, came out on Netflix this week out of nowhere, with nothing in the way of the hype.

Dahmer just arrived. There was no first show. No media were given preview access, and none of the show’s stars were made available for interview. Unless you caught the trailer shown online five days before the show’s release, you’ll be forgiven for not knowing it existed at all.

Usually this is a sign that the platform wants to bury the show. It hints at the possibility that the series was commissioned in good faith, but something went wrong along the way that Netflix thought it best to draw as little attention as possible.

And that may be the case because, whether by chance or design, Dahmer is a very difficult proposition. A biography of Jeffrey Dahmer, the man who killed (and sometimes ate) 17 victims over a 13-year period from the 1970s to the 1990s, the series seems almost pathologically incapable of mastery. The first few episodes in particular are evidence of every worst trend that the true crime drama genre can offer.

Long, long stretches of the series pass without any insight or analysis, and instead let things rip through with shocking hits as if Wikipedia decided to fund the dramatization of all its worst entries. The show seems to realize this too, dividing itself into a torn timeline as a way to distract you from its horrific procession of murders.

Evan Peters, usually very good elsewhere, plays Dahmer in a really puzzling way, as if he accidentally watched all of Joe Berra’s conversations with you as his research process. Even its borderline exploitative look takes on a kind of vague, understated feel to Saw’s disappointing sequel.

Worst of all, in a sense, is the show’s choice of focus. What the murder of Ryan Murphy – and especially that of Gianni Versace – shows is the restoration of the victims’ lives. By killing them, the legacy of these people is robbed. It doesn’t matter who they are or what they did. They will always be just a picture and a name in a chain of victims, an entire existence that is determined only by how it ends. The only good thing a show like this could do is steal the spotlight from the killer and show who these people actually are. But Dahmer is, for the most part, too intrigued by his star attraction for it.

Dahmer is undoubtedly a fetish here. The filth of his apartment lingered, right down to the blood stains on the mattress. We see him tear off his first fish, exfoliating the creature in a painfully gynecological way, so he can stare at his organs. We see him topless and sweat stains. We see him over and over again masturbating. There is a sequence where Dahmer takes a department store model to bed and flirts with her needlessly while Please Don’t Go by KC and Sunshine Band play in the background.

In fairness, the series improves towards the end. In the latter half, the focus shifts to mono and Jeffrey Dahmer retreats to the background. One episode is dedicated to the life of Anthony Hughes, a deaf man who died at the hands of Dahmer. We also see the impact of the murders on Dahmer’s parents, allowing Richard Jenkins (who plays Dahmer’s father) to perform. Jesse Jackson appears, putting the story in a more political perspective (after all, one reason Dahmer has enjoyed impunity for so long has been the police’s penchant for doing away with the legitimate fears of the black community).

But that comes after five long hours of super nauseous superficial guts. Showing The Worst of Humanity shouldn’t necessarily be fun to watch, but Dahmer seems very elated at how unpleasant it is, as if that was the only purpose of making it. No wonder Netflix didn’t want to publish it.

Then again, at the time of writing, Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story is the most watched series on Netflix, so this shows what I know. Who needs a nuance when there is a bloodthirsty audience?

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