Richard Gadd and Jessica Gunning in 'Baby Reindeer' out on Netflix now Image Credit: Netflix

The title of this seven-part series may seem benign, but there’s nothing cute or adorable about Richard Gadd’s ‘Baby Reindeer’. It’s dark, twisted, warped, and chilling. It’s one of the series that will keep you awake, long after you are done watching.

On the surface, ‘Baby Reindeer’ is a disturbing tale of a stalker, Martha (portrayed on-point by Jessica Gunning), who becomes obsessed with bar-tender/struggling comedian Donny Dunn (Richard Gadd). But Martha’s violent obsession and Dunn’s questionable apathy towards his overweight frumpy stalker are rooted in something darker and more sinister. The series takes a searing look at abuse, control, trauma, and how healing remains an ongoing, complicated process.

Acted and written by Richard Gadd, who plays Dunn with earnest conviction, the series is culled from his real-life experience of being stalked by a woman and abused by an established comedian during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Richard Gunn in 'Baby Reindeer'

These traumatic episodes in his life are fictionalised in this series. “I was severely stalked and severely abused,” said Gadd in an interview with The Guardian, and the series brings those dark episodes in his life with such force that you can’t stop watching it.

The series delves into the psyche of the stalked and the stalker at their most unhinged. Be warned, it’s not an easy watch. There may be times when you need to take a break from the morbid moments.

Stalker alert:

The series opens with Dunn, an introverted bartender, watching Martha enter his bar. She’s obese, and Dunn openly admits that he felt pity for her and offered her a cup of tea as a token of his sympathy. But that sympathy drink spirals into an unhealthy attachment as Martha finds her new target. Think 40,000 emails in his inbox and thousands of risqué messages on his phone.

Gunning is brilliant as the relentless predator who claims to be a hotshot lawyer. Her refusal to back down, her conviction that Gunn belongs to her, and her entitlement to his affection are shown without any attempt to make it pretty. Her obsession is desperate and ugly, and the series surrenders to that sentiment. Traditionally, movies and series tap into women being stalked by persistent and violent men, but this series explores a man—the stronger one of the two—with great sensitivity. The gender reversal of the narrative doesn’t feel forced. Your empathy towards Dunn’s trapped existence is equally real.

Actress Jessica Gunning in 'Baby Reindeer', out on Netflix now

Unlike series like ‘You’, where the stalker is romanticized and glorified, there’s no attempt to make stalking desirable or inviting in ‘Baby Reindeer’. Martha is chilling, and Dunn is often like that scared reindeer under the headlights—trapped and nowhere to go. His helplessness is wonderfully portrayed by Richard Gadd, who’s in incredible form in this series. There’s an aching vulnerability to Gadd who just can’t seem to get his life in order.

His servile and almost subservient attitude towards all those who try to dominate his life has a compelling backstory. For instance, the scenes in which he tries to convince the police that he’s being stalked and their lack of understanding touch upon how men being stalked by women aren’t taken as a serious crime. It may be statistically uncommon, but the series reminds you that abuse of space and boundaries isn’t gender-specific. As the series progresses, you realize that there’s more to Dunn than being a struggling comedian who is trying hard to catch a break in his business.

The episodes where you see Dunn being abused might trigger some survivors, but ‘Baby Reindeer’ deals with trauma post the violent episode in the most realistic manner. It also gives you an understanding why Richard Gadd’s character Dunn is almost fascinated by his stalker and even puts up with her abusive overtures. Their stalker-stalkee relationship is explored with a keen eye here. Questions like does Dunn almost enjoy Martha’s obsessive admiration teases you as you go along this wickedly warped series.

The series also explores ambition in all its messy glory.

Actor Tom Goodman-Hill as the worldly-wise and more established writer Darrien, who takes Dunn under his wings in the later epiodes, gives it his all. He’s despicable and cold, and he brings that clinical precision to his dark character. A scene where he clinically goes about his business after committing a crime makes you realize that abuse and control are difficult to pin down.

The series also talks about how mental health and human emotions can be so frail and tenuous. Gadd, Gunning, and every actor in this series pull their weight. Be warned, there are no neat endings in this series, but that’s what makes 'Baby Reindeer' one of the most viscerally powerful and emotionally resonant series of the year. Even if there’s no redemption in sight, the series is hugely satisfying while keeping you awake at night.

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Series: Baby Reindeer

Streaming on: Netflix

Cast: Richard Gadd, Jessica Gunning, Nava Mau, Tom Goodman-Hill

Number of episodes: 7

Stars: 4 out of 5