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The Horror of Dolores Roach Review: Justina Machado Shines in Bloody Cannibal Comedy

Sweeney Todd meets gentrification in the sharp Prime Video series

Matthew Jacobs
Justina Machado, The Horror of Dolores Roach

Justina Machado, The Horror of Dolores Roach

Prime Video

Dolores Roach is misunderstood. The Broadway play about her life inspires headlines dubbing her "the real-life Sweeney Todd," which she insists couldn't be less true. Except it's kind of true. Sweeney Todd was far more vengeful, but the comparison tracks. Dolores Roach also lashes out at work, often without meaning to, and suddenly a dead body has hit on the floor. Oops. What to do with the corpses? Well, like Mrs. Lovett and her pies, there's an empanada shop upstairs that needs meat. 

The Horror of Dolores Roach is among the year's most exciting adaptations — and a send-up of the entire concept of adaptations. In the new Prime Video series, based on a two-season fiction podcast from 2018-19, Dolores' notoriety is an IP grab. First comes a true-crime podcast about the murders she committed, then a well-received play, and soon a TV show pitched to Jason Blum, who also produced this TV show. But Dolores is a living, breathing fugitive, and no one cashing in on her story has gotten it right. When she turns up backstage, she's determined to set the record straight for the actress portraying her as a grisly madwoman.


The Horror of Dolores Roach


  • It has a fun and layered take on crime fiction
  • Justina Machado is an immensely likable protagonist
  • The supporting cast is top notch


  • The zippy pacing shortchanges some characters and subplots

Most of Dolores' saga unfolds in flashback. Created by Aaron Mark, who made the podcast, The Horror of Dolores Roach finds Justina Machado subbing in for Daphne Rubin-Vega, the previous voice of Dolores and a co-writer on the show. The ever-likable Machado, best known for Six Feet Under and One Day at a Time, plays Dolores as a striver stuck between extremes. She served a 16-year prison sentence after taking the fall for her drug-dealer boyfriend, returning to a Washington Heights overrun by Chipotle, dogs in strollers, and other gentrified blots. Dolores suffered the dehumanization of lockup and must now absorb an avalanche of human emotions and experiences, some as simple as Where will I sleep tonight? She's on sensory overload.

Dolores locates one of the neighborhood's few unchanged institutions: an empanada outpost run by an affable stoner (New Amsterdam's Alejandro Hernandez) who was once a pimply teenager with a crush. Luis is both her saving grace and her downfall. He provides a friendly face, a place to crash, and an opportunity to start a massage enterprise in the basement of the restaurant. But when a pesky landlord (Marc Maron) shows up demanding overdue rent and later gets handsy with Dolores, she snaps. It's like she's possessed, her carefully controlled rage suddenly given an outlet. Luis sees Dolores' lethal lapse as a convenience. He needs to refresh his menu anyway. Business has been slow. If the body count grows, just think how many speciality empanadas he could bake. 

Despite its cannibalistic spree, Dolores Roach is comedy, not horror. The show's eight episodes, most running less than 30 minutes, sometimes strain to balance the broader social metaphor of Dolores' situation with the zippy humor they strive for. The Sweeney Todd comparisons remain superficial: Dolores has more pluck and perkiness than the demon barber could ever conjure. She's a product of the prison system, tutored by another inmate in the art of killing but unschooled when it comes to inflation and iPhones. Because the landlord's son (Ilan Eskenazi) comes looking for his missing father, what was supposed to be a return to the real world results in an ever-spiraling frenzy. Dolores wants to do whatever it takes to avoid being sent back to prison, but her bloodlust becomes a sort of addiction — the only natural response to her whitewashed, overstimulating surroundings. That's a lot for one season to take on. Still, Mark and the other writers, including Dara Resnik (Jane the Virgin) and Joe Hortua (Better Things), transcend plot holes with vibrant, entertaining pep. 

Machado's charisma is complemented by a supporting cast full of heavy hitters: Judy Reyes as a weed dealer convinced Dolores is infringing on her turf, Jeffery Self as the nosy podcaster who happens upon Dolores and Luis' crimes, A Series of Unfortunate Events alum K. Todd Freeman as a delivery man with mounting suspicions about what's going on at the empanada shop, and a playful Cyndi Lauper as a private investigator recruited to track down Dolores' MIA ex-boyfriend. 

Even if the show can feel rushed, it's a winsome treat in a summer that isn't brimming with breakout hits. The Horror of Dolores Roach makes an apt companion to I'm a Virgo, another glorious, messy Prime Video success that uses whimsy to address deadly serious political ideas. If these are the tastiest series we'll get in the next couple of months, there isn't much to complain about. 

Premieres: Friday, July 7 on Prime Video
Who's in it: Justina Machado, Alejandro Hernandez, Jeffery Self, Cyndi Lauper, Judy Reyes, Marc Maron, K. Todd Freeman
Who's behind it: Aaron Mark (creator and co-writer)
For fans of: Horror comedy, Santa Clarita Diet, and Search Party
How many episodes we watched: 8 of 8