Review: ‘Eric’ Is A Wildly Ambitious And Powerful Drama

By Jonathon Wilson
Published: May 31, 2024 (Last updated: 2 weeks ago)
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‘Eric’ Netflix Review: Ambitious, Weird, Powerful
Eric | Image via Netflix
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Summary

Eric is a very odd and ambitious show, but it’s also an effective character study and a messy portrait of vital social issues.

You could tell that Eric was going to be good. Why else would so many serious actors be attracted to a small-scale Netflix project? What else was going to be the outcome of a series that has ambition and weirdness baked into its very premise?

What’s good about Eric, though, is that it extends way beyond that initial outline – missing kid, grieving father – and touches on so many vital themes it’s difficult to keep track. Infidelity, addiction, grief, systemic corruption, homelessness, the AIDs crisis; it’s all here. As is a seven-foot Muppet, also voiced by star Benedict Cumberbatch.

We’ll get to that. In the meantime, here’s the basic gist. The human version of Cumberbatch plays Vincent, a successful puppeteer on a very popular show called Good Day Sunshine. He’s like a narcissist Mr. Rogers, in essence, but the vibe is a lot like Kidding, that Showtime Jim Carrey vehicle about a children’s TV host with arrested development losing his mind.

Vincent isn’t losing it, though – he’s just self-absorbed. That’s until his nine-year-old son Edgar (Ivan Morris Howe) goes missing. After that, he goes bonkers, convincing himself that if only he can bring to life Edgar’s invention of Eric, a 7ft puppet created for Vincent’s show, his son will return safe and sound – and Vincent will not have to reflect on the circumstances that led to his disappearance in the first place.

No such luck.

‘Eric’ Netflix Review: Ambitious, Weird, Powerful

Eric | Image via Netflix

Before long Eric has begun to manifest as a giant Muppet only Vincent can see, a furry manifestation of his crumbling mental health. But despite the show’s title, Eric isn’t the point. The plot is about a man who was already deeply flawed, to begin with; Edgar’s disappearance is just another facet of a collapsing personal life. Vincent was already estranged from his wealthy parents and barely clinging to his shaky marriage. Eric is a reminder of the mistakes Vincent has already made.

Edgar’s disappearance is the catalyst for all this, but that isn’t the point either. The missing person mystery is solved pretty early. Instead, it’s a window into a wider story about many other relevant facets of grimy 80s New York, particularly systemic prejudices against race and sexuality explored through another character, NYPD detective Michael Ledroit (McKinley Belcher III), a closeted gay Black man.

This guy, beyond Vincent or Edgar or Eric, is the series’ main character. He has a tenderness that Vincent’s viewpoint lacks, and the way that Edgar’s disappearance parallels with another disappearance Ledroit is investigating, that of a young Black boy named Marlon Rochelle, makes the point of how marginalized people fall through the cracks of a society that can’t wait to start a police manhunt or whip up a media frenzy for a kid like Edgar.

But despite Ledroit and Belcher representing the story’s moral center, it is Cumberbatch who rightly steals the show with a performance that’s a real shoo-in for awards consideration. It’s a manic, unlikeable, almost deranged portrait of grief and despair and it’s tremendous work. But it exists as an obvious focal element in a production that can’t seem to stop adding in new wrinkles and subplots and themes. The overall effect is still very daring and effective, but it’s also more of a mess than it might have been.

Perhaps, though, being messy is inevitable when you’re paddling in these waters, where 7ft puppets and the AIDs epidemic each have a share of the focus. If nothing else, Eric is quite unlike most other shows, certainly those on streaming, which can sometimes seem like they’ve plopped right off a conveyor belt. Your mileage may vary with Eric, but if you check it out, you’ll at least know you’ve watching something; a TV show with something to say, something that it wants to be about. These days, that’s worthy of some credit.

Netflix, Streaming Service, TV, TV Reviews
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