TV - The Watcher

Steve Taylor-Bryant gets annoyed by people on social media again, so ends up watching The Watcher, available now on Netflix...


I wasn’t going to watch this new Netflix drama series.

I have a very busy schedule at the moment, I am very tired, and my mental health is often soothed by relaxing in front of something familiar, so basically, I have watched 17 seasons of NCIS and not much else. But I do know the real story that The Watcher is based upon; essentially a couple buy a house and, before they can even finish renovations, they start receiving strange letters that force them to sell the property. No-one is ever caught, and the case is still open. Now, I am sure for the real family involved that having your property dream ruined by nefarious sources is painful but, when you read the original story, you think “Oh, that’s a shame” and move on with your life because on the surface there isn’t really a multi episode drama there. However, Netflix do make interesting dramas, as shown with their adaptations of Harlan Coben novels, and so if they think seven episodes with a great cast will work then who am I to judge them. Still wasn’t interested in turning off NCIS.

But then social media blew up and our national press published tweets etc from despondent viewers who weren’t happy with end of what they thought was a solid thriller up to that point and I thought to myself… well I’m not printing my real thoughts here, but even a cursory google shows that the real story was never solved so what were they really expecting? Damn, now I have to watch it to see whether people were promised an outcome and let down by the show makers.

Now, The Watcher is very different from the real story from the off, as the family actually move in to the house of their dreams and so the show is highly fictionalised by Ryan Murphy (Nip/Tuck and American Horror Story) and Ian Brennan (Glee and Cooties) which not always a bad thing; as I mentioned previously, there wasn’t a lot in the true story that warranted a television show. Here, what you get is a great thriller that has a solid plot and is cast really well in parts, with only a couple of flaws for me, and an ending that I really enjoyed, showing that my unprintable thoughts about people were probably still valid but maybe a little dark.

The couple who buys the house, Dean and Nora Brannock, are ably played by an always solid Naomi Watts and Bobby Cannavale who, just recently, I have really been impressed by, with great performances in Mr. Robot a real highlight for me. The kids are played well by Isabel Gravitt and Luke David Blumm and there are a spattering of true greats amongst the cast of suspicious neighbours, such as Mia Farrow and Terry Kinney, and an impressive performance from Margo Martindale all make for a tense drama revolving around suburban life. Once the letters start and some creepy shenanigans begin, the Brannocks bring in a private investigator to see if they can find the underlying cause of what’s happening within their house and the neighbourhood. This is where you get a show highlight turn from Noma Dumezweni as Theadora Birch. Dumezweni elevates the story with her performance and steals the spotlight of whatever scene she is in and, when you get the ending, she even becomes one of the probable protagonists of the Brannocks’ pain.

As with the true story surrounding the house, the show doesn’t wrap up the ending in a sweet bow for you and they too leave the case unsolved, however the final couple of episodes give you multiple possibilities for who and why. There is the neighbourhood committee who didn’t like the renovations that were underway, with Farrow and Kinney definitely topping the list of suspects from within the street. There is the real estate agent who sold the house to the Brannocks and then bought it cheap as a shadowy LLC, moving in herself before her own strange letters begin arriving. Then there is the police chief who did little to help the Brannocks and was, at one point, dating the realtor before an acrimonious break up, meaning it could be him with both sets of letters. Add to these the aforementioned Dumezweni who, on her deathbed, admits it was all her to Dean Brannock, although that was probably just to help him with some closure as he unravelled somewhat throughout the experience. My own personal bet is on Brannock’s therapist who you see for maybe two minutes, but whose voice is so similar to the narration of the Watcher letters.

So, there you have it. A tense thriller, well cast in the main, that gives you ample scenarios to pick from come the end. In fact, the only issue I had with the entirety of The Watcher was with the casting of the realtor and the police chief, Jennifer Coolidge and Christopher McDonald and with all apologies to them, I am sure they are lovely and talented people but in a tense drama/thriller if you throw Stifler’s mum and Shooter McGavin at me, I am only going to see comedic in the performance. A slight twist in the casting and The Watcher would have been truly excellent but was still a hell of a lot better than “people” would have you believe.

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