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  • Writer's pictureS.J.

'Painkiller' Series Review: Uzo Aduba & Matthew Broderick Headline Netflix Opioid Crisis Farce

Uzo Aduba looking through what looks like a glass door

So we can assume that we'll keep getting two different shows with basically the same story if we just wait a year or so between them? Got it. You may be familiar with Purdue Pharma from a recent Oscar-nominated documentary or another series but the miniseries Painkiller from showrunners Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster (who also plays Dr. Wright in a bit part) is here to dig up the bones anyway. Adapting both a New Yorker article by Patrick Redden Keefe and Barry Meier's book 'Pain Killer: An Empire Of Deceit And The Origin Of America’s Opioid Epidemic', it addresses the beginning of America's opioid crisis, Purdue Pharma and their drug OxyContin's role in it, greed of the Sacklers, the family running the company, and the investigation of their villainous practices.

Starring in the series are Uzo Aduba as main investigator Evie Flowers, Matthew Broderick as Purdue's chairman Richard Sackler, West Duchovny and Dina Shihabi as OxyContin sales reps Shannon and Britt, respectively, while Taylor Kitsch and Carolina Bartczak play Glen and Lily Kruger, a married couple and parents dealing with Glen's evolving addiction to the drug.

There'll surely be reviews that heavily focus on comparing Painkiller's successes and failures to whatever has come before—you can probably find that sort of writing in the trades—but it's really not the story itself or the show's exact angle that's problematic. With director Peter Berg showing the way, Painkiller treats the Sackler part of the story as a farce which is appropriate considering that it exploits loopholes and incompetence of those in charge of the American healthcare system, while contrasting that with the more alarming tone when we're following Krugers, for example.

It's an interesting experiment but the writing led by Fitzerman-Blue and Harpster just isn't up to the task as it's mostly a dramatisation of a Wikipedia article, filled with overly heightened dialogue, irritatingly paper-thin characters like the sales reps and terrible exposition dumped on the shoulders of Aduba who should be commended just for giving it her all when no one else is matching that.

Berg and writers only really hit their stride with episode five which manages to find the sweet spot between cringe comedy and suitably frustrating human drama but otherwise the series gets lost in the noise. You wouldn't blame editors Geofrey Hildrew and Garret Donnelly if they were just doing what was asked of them because the other five episodes feel like there was constantly a 10-person screaming match happening in the editing suite. It is seemingly so desperate to keep the attention of the most peanut-brained viewers that it has no patience for performance (again, apologies to actors like Aduba and Kitsch), drama or set designs.

Combined with ridiculously intrusive sound design (by Wiley Stateman), such as smoke detector sounds that just become laughable at one point, Painkiller's distraction techniques are themselves a pain to endure. Though, instead of risking one's health with oxycodone, I'd rather prescribe actually good TV. Painkiller doesn't exactly fit that bill (or pill).

Smileys: Tone

Frowneys: Editing, writing, dialogue, sound design

Sack the Sacklers.


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