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What to Watch: ‘Baby Reindeer,’ an Astonishing Stalker Drama

Richard Gadd and Jessica Gunning in “Baby Reindeer.”Credit…Ed Miller/Netflix

Richard Gadd created and stars in the mesmerizing, complex drama “Baby Reindeer” (on Netflix), which is based on his experience of being stalked. Here he plays Donny Dunn, an aspiring comedian and miserable bartender, living with his ex-girlfriend’s mother and stewing in regret.

So one day when Martha (Jessica Gunning) sits at his bar, he feels bad for her — he sees a fellow wounded bird who deserves a moment of compassion. But Martha isn’t just a sad sack; she is a convicted stalker. Soon she is emailing Donny hundreds of times a day, harassing his family and his exes, showing up at gigs and outside his house. It’s relentless, it’s terrifying, it’s … flattering?

“Reindeer” is candid and disturbing, but not lurid. On lesser shows, nuance can play like a lack of conviction, but here it is the conviction, a rebuttal to pat victimhood narratives. It delves into the absolute pits of human experience not with a sage, well-adjusted perspective but with the mischievous bravado of a prop comic at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. (“Baby Reindeer” is adapted from Gadd’s solo show of the same title, which premiered at the festival.)

We see Donny’s act bomb and bomb and bomb; to be a comedian is often one big indignity. Donny recognizes and articulates the dangers of wanting fame, how it warps his judgment but also could solve his problems. (One person knowing your darkest secret is unbearable, but a million people knowing it is stardom.) Agony and attention are bound together here — Look at me! No, not like that! — twin snakes choking the life out of their prey. The show is relentlessly, fascinatingly compassionate, answering the questions of “why would you …” and “why didn’t he just …” with probing clarity. Everyone is shaped by suffering, their choices and identities carved by humiliations large and small.

The show is seven half-hour(ish) episodes, and they are the good kind of heavy.

SIDE QUESTS

  • If you want something autobiographical and introspective about masculinity but without the horrors of stalking, all three seasons of “Ladhood” are on Hulu and the Roku Channel.

  • If you actually love the horrors of stalking and want to add in serial murder and sultry whispers, all four seasons of “You” are on Netflix. (Only the first three are good.)

  • If you want another fabulous show that started out at Edinburgh, it is always a good time to watch “Fleabag.” Both perfect seasons are on Amazon.


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