‘Eric’ series review: Benedict Cumberbatch shines in this addictive exploration of redemption and despair


A still from ‘Eric’

Since the time he played Sherlock Holmes in the BBC show, Benedict Cumberbatch has played different versions of the socially awkward genius. In each iteration, his eccentricities were glamorous and endearing rather than toxic. In Abi Morgan’s Eric, however, Cumberbatch’s Vincent shows the other side of brilliance. How, despite his extraordinary creativity and wit, Vincent is impossible to live or work with.

Though the driving force behind a successful children’s puppet show, Vincent’s acerbic tongue lashing at all and sundry including his co-creator Lennie Wilson (Dan Fogler) have the team shying away from him. At home he is no better, bringing his ego and infidelities to his dealings with his wife, Cassie (Gaby Hoffmann), and his artistic and withdrawn nine-year-old son, Edgar (Ivan Morris Howe).

Matters come to a head one morning when Edgar vanishes on his way to school. Vincent’s personal and professional life fall apart. Cassie wants out, and Vincent’s downward spiral into an alcohol and drug-fuelled haze finds the suits gunning for him. Through all this, Vincent is convinced if he gets the puppet Edgar drew, a seven-foot high, blue shaggy monster called Eric, on the show, Edgar will return home. As Vincent gets increasingly isolated, Eric becomes the manifestation of his hopes and failings.

It is the 1980s in New York — the Big Apple is shiny on the outside, and rotten within. Vincent’s journey to rock bottom echoes the homeless living in subway tunnels. The rich and powerful build shiny new condos while depriving people on the streets a place to live in the name of gentrification. The 1980s was also the time of AIDS and people were no longer able to explore their sexuality safely.

Eric (English)

Creator: Abi Morgan

Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Ivan Morris Howe, Gaby Hoffmann, McKinley Belcher III, Wade Allain-Marcus, Mark Gillis, Dan Fogler, Clarke Peters, Phoebe Nicholls

Episodes: 6

Run-time: 52 – 55 minutes

Storyline: When his son goes missing, a brilliant puppeteer’s mind comes unravelled as he is forced to confront his failings

The policeman in charge of finding Edgar, Michael Ledroit (McKinley Belcher III), is gay and Black and as much an outsider as the talented graffiti artist living rough, Yuusuf (Bamar Kane). Though another boy, Marlon Rochelle, has been missing for close to a year, his mum Cecile (Adepero Oduye) accuses the NYPD of not looking hard enough for him because Marlon is poor and Black unlike Edgar who is cute, white and has rich parents.

A still from ‘Eric’

A still from ‘Eric’
| Photo Credit:
Spencer Pazer/Netflix

A nightclub called The Lux run by Ali Gator (Wade Allain-Marcus) seems to be the centre of action. Before moving to missing persons, Ledroit was in the vice squad and there is mention of a raid on an underage sex ring. There are all kinds of leeches and parasites on the great stinking carcass of the city, from crooked cops to strung-out junkies and twisted pimps.

Vincent has privilege in spades considering he is a successful professional and the son of a real estate mogul, Robert Anderson (John Doman) and society lady Anne (Phoebe Nicholls). That, however, does not stop him from scoring a hit from a junkie in the subway. His privilege is sharply contrasted with Cecile and the superintendent of his (Vincent’s) apartment, George (Clarke Peters), who was wrongfully imprisoned earlier and taken in for questioning on Edgar’s disappearance.

There are the tragic and practical consequences of the love that cannot be named between Ledroit and the cellist William (Mark Gillis), who is dying of AIDS. Eric is a luminous look at the birth of a city from the ruins of earlier settlers (as Vincent’s father coldly explains), the desperate measures taken by distressed people, of love and grief, hope and despair. And in case none of that floats your boat, there is an elegant mystery at the black heart of the mini-series, extraordinary period detail and Cumberbatch’s virtuoso turn as Vincent which goes like a spike into your vein.

And there is another reason to be thankful for Eric — rediscovering The Velvet Underground’s blistering ‘Heroin’.

Eric is currently streaming on Netflix

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