There are a lot of dramatic retellings of true stories out there, and Netflix has an increasing amount of them. Tackling topics based on actual events is a challenging feat, especially when you have to consider the thousands of people who are often affected by the events being covered. The latest true-events dramatisation is Netflix’s Painkiller, a dramatic and all too satirical re-telling of the ongoing opioid crisis. Still, critics think that Netflix pushed it too far regarding satire and dark humour and didn’t do the actual story justice.
Painkiller premiered on the 10th of August, 2023 and has been in Netflix’s Top 10 since, having over 5 million views. The limited drama series shows a dramatic and satirical version of “The Causes and consequences of America’s opioid epidemic”, unfolding as the show follows those considered responsible, the victims of the crisis, and the investigators who worked day and night to uncover the truth.
The series was brought to life by brilliant minds and executive producers, including Alex Gibney, Eric Newman, Micah Fitzerman-Blue, Noah Harpster, Patrick Radden Keefe, and Peter Berg (director). The cast includes famous and upcoming names like Ana Cruz Kayne as Brianna Ortiz, Brian Markinson as Howard Udell, Carolina Bartczak as Lily Kryger, Clark Gregg as Arthur Sackler, Sr., Dina Shihabi as Britt Hufford, Jack Mulhern as Tyler Kryger, John Rothman as Mortimer Sackler, Matthew Broderick as Richard Sackler, Ron Lea as Bill Havens, Sam Anderson as Raymond Sackler, Taylor Kitsch as Glen Kryger, Uzo Aduba as Edie Flowers, and West Duchovny as Shannon Schaeffer and many more exceptional talents.
While Painkiller has all the building blocks for a unique and successful Netflix series, and the views suggest that people love it, Rotten Tomatoes disagrees. The general audience doesn’t hate it too much, giving the series a 61% Audience Score. Still, critics left the series with a rotten 48% Tomatometer.
When looking at why they might have done so, the general consensus is that Netflix took the satire and dark humour a little too far on this one, taking a tragic story that has affected the lives of many and fictionalising it to the point where it didn’t actually represent what people went through anymore and that it was instead a way of lynching the people involved in causing the opioid crisis in the first place.
“Painkiller honours the victims of the opioid crisis with effective dramatic beats but is undermined by its stale satirical flourishes, resulting in a tonally confused bit of muckraking.” I had to Google what ‘muckraking’ means. Still, it is publicising famous people’s scandals for no other reason than publicity itself, which many agreed Painkiller did.
Ed Power at the Daily Telegraph (UK) stated it perfectly in his review: “Painkiller’s mistake is to add a note of dark comedy to a story where no embellishment is required.” Other critic reviews called the fictionalised take on the true story “a plague” and overkill.