Yes, that is the full name of the show: “Dahmer — Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story.” It takes six episodes for the show to go beyond the serial killer or Evan Peters’ portrayal of him. The story of Dahmer victim Tony Anthony Hughes is at the center of that episode, “Silenced” which was directed by Paris Barclay and written by Janet Mock and David McMillan.
Tony was a friendly aspiring model with a big heart. Rodney Burford who used to be on “Deaf U,” played him with warm charm. He was deaf, black, gay and a great dancer. His friends and mother, played by an emotional Karen Malina White, cared a lot about him.
With every second that Burford has to give Tony a new lease on life, the end of “Silenced” becomes scarier and the police’s failure to find the truth more frustrating. But as the confusing title of the show suggests, this episode is not like the others. Otherwise, the new Netflix show from Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan is a grim, sepia-toned slog that rarely justifies its own existence.
On the surface, it doesn’t seem strange that Murphy chose his favorite actor, Peters, to play one of the most well-known serial killers. “Monster” gives Murphy and his longtime collaborator Ian Brennan the chance to combine parts of “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story” (also about a gay predator who uses violence to escape loneliness) and “Ratched,” the gruesome prequel series to “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” that told the story of how a famous villain got started.
Peters gets to do another disturbing performance, this time with a flat Wisconsin accent that is unsettling. But two years after the project was first announced, the surprise-drop rollout of “Monster” is, to say the least, quiet. Before the premiere, there were no episodes to show and no stars, like Peters, Niecy Nash, or Molly Ringwald, to talk to. There was no opening, no party, no fanfare and nothing else.
Even the companion “Jeffrey Dahmer Tapes,” which was supposed to be the “Conversations with a Killer” sequel to Netflix’s previous Ted Bundy series, did not come out at the same time as “Monster” as was once thought. As Murphy’s huge deal with Netflix seems to be coming to an end, so do his last projects for the service.
Then again, “Monster” wouldn’t have been worth the hype even if it had gotten all the attention in the world. Like “Versace,” it starts near the end of the story and then goes back in time to show in flashbacks how “Jeff” came to be. The show’s most obvious themes are hammered home so hard in Murphy and Brennan’s scripts that it’s a wonder some scenes made it past the first draught.
Richard Jenkins and Penelope Ann Miller do their best to fight in weeping clichés as Jeff’s parents. In every episode, Jeff keeps begging his victims not to leave because he’s “sick of everyone leaving me.” (Abandonment issues, get it?) In fact, given the rest of Murphy’s work, the least bloody parts of “Monster” might be the most surprising thing about it. Most of the details of Dahmer’s crimes are left up to the viewer’s imagination, or the score does all it can to build up enough suspense.
Even though we know (or at least hope) that Murphy and Brennan aren’t trying to make us feel sorry for Dahmer, it’s disgusting that so much of this show is spent watching Peters’ Dahmer beat himself up for being “weird,” as if he were reenacting Jughead’s now-famous “Riverdale” speech.
“I’m not a normal guy, I’m weird, I don’t fit in,” said Dahmer. “I’m weird, I’m a weirdo, I don’t fit in,” said Jughead. Then after six of the ten episodes were about Dahmer’s personality and murders the second half of the show was about what happened after he was caught and how the sheer horror of his crimes made people angry.
This includes a lot of attempts to show how Dahmer was able to get away with so many shocking crimes while the marginalized communities he worked in, especially queer and Black spaces protested the obvious unease around him.
If there was a story worth telling here and that’s a big “if,” considering how many true crime shows are on TV these days, it was this. Even though “Silenced” takes a different path, most of the important parts of the story are told in one-dimensional platitudes that don’t go as deep as the subject needs. Nash who plays Dahmer’s suspicious neighbor so well, can’t do much to change that. Even though the last episodes of “Monster” try to move away from him, it’s still “The Jeffrey Dahmer Story.”
This show is for you if you want to see Peters fight his own homophobia by touching a mannequin, masturbating to memories of gutted animals or solemnly frying up a human kidney. Beyond that, though, it can’t do what it wants to do, which is explain both the man and the problems in society that his crimes took advantage of, without becoming exploitative itself.
Many, many times the story of Jeffrey Dahmer has been told. Even though this version looks important, it doesn’t add much else. The Netflix show “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” is now available to stream.
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