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Eric Review: Benedict Cumberbatch Is a Sad Man With Puppets in Dark Netflix Crime Drama

The unusual new limited series is much less funny (and much more British) than you probably think it is

Liam Mathews
Benedict Cumberbatch, Eric

Benedict Cumberbatch, Eric


Warped takes on children's TV shows and the broken people who make them are a micro-genre that's been around for decades. Usually, it's played as dark comedy that draws on the irony of childhood innocence being written and performed by sad adults, like Showtime's dramedy series Kidding, which starred Jim Carrey as a Mister Rogers type grieving the death of his son. 

Netflix's new limited series Eric is an unorthodox take on the genre. Its innovation is to remove comedy entirely. It's an almost unrelentingly dark crime drama that uses a talking puppet as a manifestation of psychological deterioration in a way that isn't even supposed to be funny. It's a bold gambit, and it works. 

Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Vincent Anderson, the lead puppeteer on a Sesame Street-style show in 1985 Manhattan. He's brilliant but tortured, plagued by mental illness and addiction. His marriage to his wife, Cassie (Gaby Hoffmann), is circling the drain, and his 9-year-old son, Edgar (Ivan Morris Howe), alternately adores him or is terrified of him, depending on Vincent's mood. 

The morning after a particularly explosive fight between Vincent and Cassie, Edgar leaves the apartment on his own and doesn't come home. Detective Michael Ledroit (McKinley Belcher III) of the NYPD's missing persons unit is assigned to the case, and he suspects Edgar's disappearance is connected to the case of Marlon Rochelle, a 14-year-old Black boy who went missing in the same neighborhood several months earlier. As Ledroit pursues his investigation, Vincent comes up with his own plan to find Edgar. He'll build Eric, a blue, furry, seven-foot-tall monster puppet Edgar drew, and put him on the show, and when Edgar sees him, he'll come home. Along the way, Vincent visually and auditorily hallucinates Eric, who helps him with his mission while berating him for his failures as a father. 




  • Unusual tone
  • Strong performances
  • Good direction


  • Sloppy plotting
  • Cumberbatch has done this before

Eric is set in America, but it's a British production, and it feels like it. More than anything else, it resembles downbeat, socially conscious British crime dramas like Broadchurch and Happy Valley. It's written by Abi Morgan, who won an Emmy in 2013 for writing the limited series The Hour. She also created River, an excellent limited series starring Stellan Skarsgård as a London detective haunted by visions of a murdered colleague. Eric feels like a more grabby evolution of what she was doing in that earlier series. 

Morgan uses the investigation as a vehicle to explore themes of racism in policing, gentrification and homelessness, and homophobia (Ledroit is a gay man who is not out at work, and Marlon is also gay). The language feels contemporary, but the point — that there are a lot of social issues that haven't been solved, but progress starts at the the level of workplaces and families — is always relevant. 

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Vincent and Ledroit's stories are on parallel tracks in a way that makes Eric feel a bit like two shows. Fortunately, they're both engaging, and they intersect enough to keep them from totally diverging. Ledroit's story has the mystery procedural elements that give the plot a hook, while Vincent's is a psychological character study of a man on the verge of collapse.

Cumberbatch is firmly in his comfort zone here. He's playing an addict with a troubled relationship with his father for the second limited series in a row, after 2018's Patrick Melrose. And his performance as a man who believes his brilliance gives him the right to treat other people terribly will be familiar to anyone who's watched Sherlock. He has a type. But he's really good at it, and it's always enjoyable to hear him voice-act in that almost inhumanly low register he has, which he accesses as Eric. 

The show's best performance belongs to Hoffmann, who is heartbreaking as Cassie, a woman who has reached her breaking point with her unreliable husband and is grappling with the fact that even though her son is missing, it could always be worse. 

Eric is directed by Lucy Forbes, who previously directed the excellent limited series This Is Going to Hurt, a show that bears some tonal similarities to Eric, but with more humor. Forbes has a wonderful sense of color, and as dark as Eric gets at times, it's always pleasant to look at. And the CGI backdrops that make the show look like 1985 New York are seamlessly executed. 

The show's biggest problem is moments that are so contrived and unrealistic that they shatter the suspension of disbelief. Several key events revolve around security camera footage that would be high-def by 2024 standards. The cameras capture everything Ledroit needs from multiple angles, as if a director were getting coverage on a crime in progress. There are so many "that would never happen" moments in such quick succession that they build on each other and become overwhelming. In a vacuum, they're forgivable. But the way they happen here makes the climax unsatisfying. It's like Morgan wrote what needed to happen with the intention of figuring out how to make it work later, but never went back to it. 

But everything leading up to that climax is quite strong. Eric doesn't have much we haven't seen before, but it's put together in a unique enough way to be compelling. The performances are strong, the visual identity is appealing, and the lack of humor in a show about a guy hallucinating a puppet is genuinely inspired.

Premieres: Thursday, May 30 on Netflix with all six episodes
Who's in it: Benedict Cumberbatch, Gaby Hoffmann, McKinley Belcher III, Ivan Morris Howe, Dan Fogler, Clarke Peters
Who's behind it: Creator Abi Morgan; director Lucy Forbes; executive producers Benedict Cumberbatch, Jane Featherstone, Lucy Dyke
For fans of: British procedurals, Sherlock, sadness, puppets
How many episodes we watched: 6 of 6