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A raw, riveting take on obsession and abuse 

A still from ‘Baby Reindeer’

After the eminently bingeable Fallout, comes Richard Gadd’s equally binge-worthy Baby Reindeer, which talks of a different kind of fallout. Where the former dealt with the fairly straightforward apocalypse caused by a nuclear war, resulting in a world populated by immortal ghouls, cannibals and gigantic cockroaches, the latter deals with the far-reaching consequences of a random act of kindness.

Donny (Richard Gadd) is a struggling stand-up comic in London. One day, a woman, Martha (Jessica Gunning), walks into the pub where he works, and something about her forlorn gaze draws in Donny, who offers her a cup of tea on the house. Though Donny realises Martha is fragile and ill, he talks to her and she becomes a regular fixture at the pub.

Donny thinks he is just being friendly but Martha seems to twist everything he says to fit her version of reality, in which the two are an item and have a life together. Martha ploughs on regardless of Donny’s attempts to create boundaries. She floods his inbox with weirdly spelt e-mails supposedly sent from an iPhone when she clearly does not have one.

When Donny looks up Martha online, he discovers to his horror that she is a serial stalker jailed for harassing her boss, behaviour that got her debarred as a lawyer. When Donny finally approaches the police about her stalking, they ask why he waited so long to report her as the harassment has been going on for months. It raises certain questions: Why did Donny accept her friend request online? Why did he not block her mails? Why did he try to be nice to her instead of shutting her out? What is it about Martha that draws him to her in spite of himself?

Baby Reindeer

Creator: Richard Gadd

Cast: Richard Gadd, Jessica Gunning, Nava Mau

Episodes: 7

Run-time: 27 to 45 minutes

Storyline: An aspiring comic finds his life derailed by a random act of kindness

In the unbearably brilliant fourth episode, we get to learn of the trauma that defines Donny’s life and future interactions. As a young man trying his luck at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Donny meets Darrien (Tom Goodman-Hill), a writer of a hit comedy, who tells Donny he has a great future ahead.  Donny comes to London and joins drama school where he meets Keeley (Shalom Brune-Franklin). The two get together and move into Keeley’s mum, Liz’s (Nina Sosanya) house.

Through all this, Donny meets Darrien over the weekends, getting high and writing for him for free as Darrien dangles the carrot of networks, pilots and options. After Keeley and Donny break-up, Donny continues to live at Liz’s place till Martha finds out where he lives and begins to sit at the bus stop close to his house for over 15 hours!

Donny meets and falls in love with Teri (Nava Mau), a trans woman, but Martha is there between the two of them too. As Martha begins to attack Donny’s parents in Scotland, Keeley and Teri, Donny is forced to take action and that is when he finds the police less than helpful. Since Martha is an experienced convicted stalker with training in law, she seems to know just how far she can go legally.

Based on Gadd’s eponymous play, Baby Reindeer is based on true events. Without a neat ending or cathartic closure, the show is as raw and real as it gets. There are no easy answers and no black-and-white separations to take comfort in. There is success, happiness, deep grief, pain, burning shame, guilt and loneliness jostling for space in Donny’s life.

When Donny explains his search for fame as it “encompasses judgment” you nod in understanding. His observation that “there is nothing like getting everything you want in life to realise it is not for you,” will resonate a hundredfold. His tragic realisation, “that is what abuse does to you, makes you the sticking plaster for all life’s weirdos,” is painfully poignant. The acting like the writing is so good, it makes you weep for the brilliance of it. While there is nothing cute or cuddly about Baby Reindeer, it is an extraordinary, important, unmissable piece of art.

Baby Reindeer is currently streaming on Netflix

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