Netflix’s “The Watcher,” released on Thursday, Oct. 13, currently stands as No. 1 on the platform’s Top 10 list. The series, co-created by Ryan Murphy, dethroned his other true-crime-inspired show, “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story,” now resting at No. 2 on the list. Murphy is well known for his creation of “Glee” and “American Horror Story,” along with his role as executive producer of “American Crime Story.”
“The Watcher” claims to be based on a true story, though it more so borrows the general premise of a mystery taking place in New Jersey. The Broaddus family, renamed the Brannocks for the show, moved to the suburbs of Westfield where they were soon met with chilling letters from “The Watcher” — a stalker intimately familiar with not only the house and its past tenants but the family themselves. The Broaddus’, fearing for their lives, sold the home at a significant loss; despite police investigation, the perpetrator was never caught. The story was the subject of a Buzzfeed Unsolved episode and a 2016 feature-length film before being adapted by Murphy.
“The Watcher” features quite a few big names: Naomi Campbell plays worried mother Nora Brannock, Bobby Cannavale is overprotective father Dean Brannock and Jennifer Coolidge stars as real-estate agent Karen Calhoun.
The acting itself is great, but the script and overall plot drag the series down. Considering the case is unsolved, Murphy had the creative liberty to go in any direction. Yet, Murphy’s invention of fact in “The Watcher” flops — it is over-the-top in its characterization of the Brannock’s neighbors and suggests wild theories as to who exactly The Watcher is. What makes Murphy’s past works, such as “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” and “The Assassination of Gianni Versace,” successful may be their absurdity; yet the stories still feel plausible because they actually unfolded in real life.
“The Watcher” also depicts a strange and often uncomfortable dynamic within the Brannock family. Dean, in his attempt to paint a portrait of a picture-perfect family, makes questionable financial decisions in not only buying their Westfield home but also in maintaining it. With The Watcher violating their privacy, spending thousands of dollars on an alarm system and private investigator makes sense. But for a family in significant debt to pour even more money into unnecessary renovations is a bit extreme. For example, Dean insists upon replacing their pristine kitchen countertops — solely out of the fear that they would stain when he made red pasta sauce.
Rooting for the Brannock family is also difficult when Dean constantly expresses disappointment in his teenage daughter Ellie’s appearance. Under the guise of protecting her youth and innocence, he berates Ellie for wearing lipstick but it appears as though Dean is the one guilty of hypersexualizing her. The immoral motives of the young security guard hired by the Brannock’s and the family’s disregard for their neighbor’s mental health issues are also disconcerting. While these elements are likely intentional and have something to do with the story’s conclusion, it does make “The Watcher” difficult to view.
Though the acting and cinematography in “The Watcher” excel, the story lacks a strong sense of direction. Rather than building upon one another, every lead in the case seems to dissipate by the end of each episode. One is better off investing their time in another one of Murphy’s acclaimed shows.