Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story TV Review

Reason: Between 1978 and 1991, Jeffrey Dahmer brutally took the lives of seventeen innocent victims. DAHMER – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story is a series that exposes these unconscionable crimes, centered around the underserved victims and their communities affected by the systemic police racism and institutional failure that allowed one of America’s most notorious serial killers to continue his murderous ride in plain sight for over a decade.

Review: The clumsy title DAHMER – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story is at once one of the best and one of the worst series of 2022. As Ryan Murphy’s mega-deal with Netflix looms, this true crime drama tries to take a unique view of one of the 20th century’s century’s most disturbing figures. While dealing with the most gruesome elements of Dahmer’s crimes from the perspective of his mutilated victims, Monster is at once a well-filmed and structured series that manages to be extremely difficult to sit through. Although the subject itself is already difficult to process, Monster also manages to move so slowly that it makes it challenging to stay focused on the story being told.

The ten-episode series was not previewed to critics, which usually does not bode well for the quality of the production. Reunites Ryan Murphy with his longtime producing and writing partner Ian Brennan, who co-created Ratched, Hollywood, and Halston, monster trying to combine elements from the FX series American crime with a different perspective than the countless documentaries and films about Jeffrey Dahmer. Shifting from Dahmer’s arrest in the first episode to flashbacks to his various murders, the first half of the episodes in this series try very hard to personalize the dead and not sensationalize Dahmer himself. The second half of the season focuses on Dahmer’s trial and incarceration with much time spent on how the media circus affected not only the Dahmer family, but the families of his victims.

Frequent Murphy cast member Evan Peters is shocking as Dahmer and does a fantastic job of replicating the serial killer’s mannerisms, speech patterns and almost robotic disposition. When I started watching the first episode of the series, I couldn’t tell if Peters would take this show in a direction similar to his work on American Horror Story and play the role a little wider, but the actor is very restrained. Surprisingly, the entire series is subdued compared to much of Murphy and Brennan’s work. There are moments of violence and blood in it Monster but most are shown after the fact. The series stays away from showing many of the murders themselves, instead giving us scene after scene of Dahmer punishing himself for his actions and regretting his loneliness. The series struggles here not to make us sympathize with Dahmer despite spending so much time learning about why he did what he did.

The supporting cast around Peters do the best they can with their roles, especially Richard Jenkins as Lionel, Jeffrey’s father, and Molly Ringwald as stepmother Shari. Niecy Nash is quite good as Dahmer’s neighbor who notices his strange behavior and the horrible smell coming from his apartment. We also get a solid turn from Penelope Ann Miller as Dahmer’s mother, Joyce, along with some other familiar faces throughout the series. The challenge in telling such a disturbing story is how to balance the humanity with the inhumanity. Although the crimes are not shown explicitly, there is a lot of focus on Jeffrey Dahmer dealing with his homosexuality and ingrained societal homophobia. The dialogue often feels clichéd and heavy-handed as we have to analyze Dahmer’s crimes and the crimes committed against him as a gay man in the 1980s.

While Ryan Murphy only had a part in the script for the first four episodes, co-creator Ian Brennan shares credit on every episode except one. The ten-episode journey this series takes often feels like it could have been condensed into half the time and still achieved the same result. With five directors helming the series, Murphy and Brennan selected all filmmakers who are either black, female, gay or a combination. Seasoned TV director Paris Barclay directed two episodes, while Carl Franklin tackled the first with indie filmmakers Greg Araki directing one and Clement Virgo two. Jennifer Lynch did the bulk of the work here as she directed four episodes of the series. The diverse talent behind the camera lends a high caliber to the series’ visual scope, which is awash in night shots and heavy shadows. Much of the series reminded me of the movie Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer in the troubled setting and the very quiet, almost music-free largest part of the series.

Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story premieres just about a month before Netflix unveils their latest Conversations with a murderer season dedicated to the same crimes. Something about Dahmer’s story feels wrong to be told in a dramatized format and should be left to documentary filmmakers. It’s a shame as Evan Peters delivers a terrific performance and both Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan have created one of their strongest series to date. It’s just a shame the topic feels wrong. Everyone involved in this show does an admirable job of trying to tell this story in a way that would not offend, but rather inform. The end result is just too slow and too uncomfortable and not worth the investment to see it.

Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story is now streaming on Netflix.

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