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Baby Reindeer

Credits

Cast

Network

Reviewer

Kennedy Unthank

TV Series Review

“You say this woman’s stalking you?” The police officer asks an exhausted-looking Donny Dunn.

It all started six months ago, when Martha Scott walked into the pub in which Donny worked. The moment he laid his eyes on Martha, something about her made him feel sorry for her. She didn’t even have enough to pay for a tea, so Donny gave her one on the house.

Donny’s a struggling comedian, tending the bar to make ends meet while he tries to make it big. He knows what it’s like to have days where you look and feel like you’re at rock bottom. So what’s the harm in cheering up a sad-looking woman?

Plenty, as it turns out.

Martha came in the next day, and the next one…and the next one.

At the start, Donny finds her a bit sad and obsessive. Still, he doesn’t immediately find her presence annoying. In truth, he initially finds himself enjoying it—her affection validating a little of that attention he so desperately pursues through his comedy.

It’s not until he looks her up online that he finds the real truth: news articles describing Martha’s four-and-a-half-year sentence behind bars for serial stalking, harassment, false accusations and assault.

And she hasn’t changed her ways a bit. In a single day, she sent him 80 emails. In the time since Donny’s first encounter with her, she’d allegedly send 40,991 more. And those don’t count Martha’s messages, tweets, letters and voicemails, either.

Oh, and look at that! Donny’s just gotten a Facebook friend request from her.

Not the Red-Nosed Reindeer You Were Hoping For

But Baby Reindeer is about far more than one man’s experience with a relentless stalker. At its core, this dark comedy heavily hinges on broken people.

When we meet Martha, it’s easy for us to side with Donny. After all, she does pursue Donny in many erratic, non-consensual and otherwise emotionally manipulative ways. But Jessica Gunning plays Martha in such a way that causes us viewers to likewise feel pity for her in the same way that Donny did when she first arrived at his pub—a pity not based on her inexcusable actions but on the obvious underlying issues that are likely compelling them in the first place.

And Donny carries his own trauma with him. Danny was drugged and raped (an incident we see in a difficult-to-stomach fourth episode), and that tragic incident caused his insecurities and desire for real, authentic connection to exponentially grow. Those feelings are what inevitably cause his relationships to crumble … and what cause him to (initially) entertain Martha’s advances.

And as these two hurting people interact with one another, we’re left with a distinctly mournful seven-episode series whose popularity may betray how difficult of a watch it is.

Donny unpacks all of his trauma for the viewer, leaving no stone unturned. He discusses how his abuser manipulated him with hardcore drugs before victimizing him. He tells of his struggles with his sexuality following the event as he spirals through relationship after relationship with men, women and trans-partners. And though he knows what Martha is doing to him is wrong, he admits that there’s a part of him that enjoys the attention—even as he understands the abusive nature of the relationship.

Baby Reindeer arguably abuses the viewer, too. Scenes filled with sex and nudity are part of the docket. Conversations about sex are common. Language can be incredibly harsh. The showis full of problematic content and is not for the faint of heart as it explores lead actor Richard Gadd’s real-life experience with all the aforementioned events. So even as the series receives critical acclaim, let this be a warning that its content issues are particularly hard to watch, even for the TV-MA show’s appropriate audience.

(Editor’s Note: Plugged In is rarely able to watch every episode of a given series for review. As such, there’s always a chance that you might see a problem that we didn’t. If you notice content that you feel should be included in our review, send us an email at [email protected], or contact us via Facebook or Instagram, and be sure to let us know the episode number, title and season so that we can check it out.)

Episode Reviews

Apr. 11, 2024 – S1, E1: “Ep. 1”

Donny meets Martha for the first time, and he soon begins to realize her obsession with him.

We hear references to many different forms of sex. People also talk about orgasms, genitals and underwear. Martha’s emails often reference sexually explicit acts.

It’s revealed that Martha falsely accused a man of child abuse, and that she once physically attacked a woman. Donny’s comedy is often dark in nature, including saying things like “Hitler was misunderstood.”

Someone is flirtatiously called a “devil boy.” Someone says “God doesn’t like a bragger.”

The f-word is used seven times, and the s-word is used five times. “H—” is used four times. We also hear British crudities like “sod” and “twat.” God’s name is used in vain seven times, and Jesus’ name is likewise used in vain three times.

Apr. 11, 2024 – S1, E4: “Ep. 4”

Donny recalls the traumatic event in his life which made him reconsider reporting Martha to the police.

Donny meets a man named Darrien, a famous man who promises to help Donny reach stardom. Darrien introduces Donny to hardcore drugs, and while Donny is unconscious or otherwise vulnerable as a result of them, Darrien rapes him onscreen. It’s also implied Darrien orally raped Donny while he was unconscious, too, and Donny struggles with wondering what all Darrien could have done to him that he no longer remembers. He likewise wonders if his attraction to men might be traced to that abuse. Donny makes a reference to the Jonestown mass suicide by describing himself as “drinking the Kool-Aid.”

We see Donny’s naked rear. Donny has sex with men and women, and we see one woman’s breasts. He also masturbates to gay pornography, and we hear moaning. Donny begins dating a person named Teri, who identifies as a transgender woman. And when the two attempt to have sex, we see Teri’s naked, hormonally or surgically enhanced chest. Donny wears a skin-tight suit for his comedy act. We hear a reference to condoms, circumcision, genitals and sex toys. A man describes himself as a “televisual prostitute” and later as a “Buddhist, polyamorous pansexual.”

Donny recounts the many drugs he took while at Darrien’s home, and we see him take them: cocaine, meth, heroin and acid. He’s also given GHB, a depressant which causes drowsiness and slows the heart rate. Donny describes his act as “putting the ‘lol’ (short for “laugh out loud”) in propranolol.” People drink beer. As a result of the drugs in his system, Donny vomits.

The f-word is used around 30 times, and the s-word is used four times. We also hear a crudity for male genitalia. Words like “h—” and the British vulgarities “bloody” and “wanker” are used, too. God’s name is used in vain five times, and Jesus’ name is also used in vain twice.

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kennedy-unthank
Kennedy Unthank

Kennedy Unthank studied journalism at the University of Missouri. He knew he wanted to write for a living when he won a contest for “best fantasy story” while in the 4th grade. What he didn’t know at the time, however, was that he was the only person to submit a story. Regardless, the seed was planted. Kennedy collects and plays board games in his free time, and he loves to talk about biblical apologetics. He thinks the ending of Lost “wasn’t that bad.”

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