‘Reindeer’ plays dangerous game

A tremendous show about stalking as well as human nature. The British series Baby Reindeer currently on Netflix runs just under four hours but would’ve been a killer feature film (edited down no doubt) in an alternative universe.

Donny Dunn (Richard Gadd in an incredible star making turn) and Martha Scott (Jessica Gunning, likewise a star making performance) are the modern day equivalent of Jack Sprat and his wife. He’s as skinny as a rail and she’s overweight to the point of obesity.

(By the way Donald “Duck” Dunn is also the name of the excellent bass player who played with Booker T and The Blues Brothers among others. Duck Dunn the musician passed away twelve years ago.)

I’m already down with an American remake of this provocative story and I know exactly how to compress the action into a two-hour movie that’s bona fide Oscar® bait. Yet it’s not fair to, no pun intended, trim the fat on this story since it explores many frank sexual proclivities from multiple perspectives.

Incidents of sexual repression, romantic chicanery, downright stalking, and even drugging someone to rape them are presented so effectively that some episodes end with a disclaimer and link to a website that offers consultancy for survivors of sexual abuse.

Donny is a struggling would-be stand-up comic who has moved to the big city, lives with relatives, and works at a bar to make ends meet. Here he meets Martha who comes in one day for a cup of tea. This is the UK where a tosser can get a cup of tea as well as a pint at any pub.

Martha, who claims to be a lawyer, begins stalking Donny. It’s a gentle stalking at first; weird emails. Gadd seems to have been cast in part for his doe-eyed stare that just demands compassion. Gunning’s heft gives weight to her increasingly dangerous performance.
Things progress organically. We realize Donny has terrible stage presence while Martha’s social skills are dull.

Episode 4 presents a kind of prequel to Donny, showing a previous experience where he was abused in a similar and yet darker manner.
By the time police are involved, by the time Donny comes out to his parents, by the time Martha attacks Donny’s trans girlfriend in public you just are held rapt in attention.

Baby Reindeer presents a compelling story with character elements that ring universal.

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