Scene from Baby Reindeer, Netflix Scene from Baby Reindeer, Netflix

Lucy Nichols finds the streaming series both thought provoking and entertaining – and well worth watching

Despite its sweet-sounding name, Baby Reindeer is far from light-hearted.

The phenomenal seven-part series, released on Netflix in April, is based on a true story. The Scottish comedian Richard Gadd wrote and starred in the autobiographical series, where he plays a fictionalised version of himself, albeit with a name change.

‘Baby Reindeer’ is the nickname given to Donny Dunn (Gadd) by his stalker, Martha (Jessica Gunning). Martha becomes obsessed with Donny after he offers her a free cup of tea at the pub he works at, seeing her as a harmless, lonely, older woman.

What starts as a slightly uneasy friendship turns into a toxic fixation, with Martha resorting to increasingly disturbing measures first to try and win Donny over as a lover, and later to ruin his life.

Donny struggles with the stalking that takes over his life, but also with coming to terms with his sexuality, and past sexual assault. He does all this as an up and coming stand up comedian, who relies on a routine built on gimmick and innuendo.

Baby Reindeer therefore displays elements of a variety of genres and is difficult to confine to just one box. Marketed as a black comedy, it could also reasonably be described as a thriller. The cinematography is often very dark, close-up shots make it feel intimate and intense. At times it is violent and explosive, and at times it makes you want to sob.

There are also allusions to other genres. The episodes are relatively short, as is often the case with sitcoms. Some of the most difficult scenes take place with Donny wearing a ridiculous, clown-like suit (perhaps a hint at his tendency towards insecurity and self-deprecation). Scenes with Donny Dunn’s parents (Amanda Root and Mark Lewis Jones) read more like drama, with one particularly heart-wrenching scene where Donny opens up to his parents for the first time about his traumatic past.

In a way that is reminiscent of Michaela Cole’s spectacular I May Destroy You, or Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag, Baby Reindeer is a work of self-reflection. This self-reflection is really what the series is about: an opportunity for Donny and Gadd to come to terms with unimaginable trauma.

Gadd narrates the whole series, giving the viewer even more insight into his thoughts throughout. Donny is often shown looking at himself in the mirror, talking to someone through glass, or over a bar. There is a separation between him and everyone else. Somewhat perversely it sometimes seems the only person he lets anywhere near him is Martha. This is something he admits in one of the later episodes, as the drama reaches a climax.

This all makes for a television series that is at times difficult to watch.

But what is most disturbing about Baby Reindeer is that it is all based on real life: somewhere, there lives a real-life Martha. More enthusiastic fans of the series have speculated on her identity, going as far as tracking down social media accounts of a woman they suspect to be the ‘real’ Martha.

Aside from the speculations and real-life aspects, Baby Reindeer lends itself to bingeing, though this does seem to be where television is going in the age of streaming. The acting is very good, and the supporting cast excels. It does have something of the ‘Netflix’ about it, in that it feels slightly mass-produced, and it looks fairly similar to every other series made by the US streaming giant.

Despite being far more of the personal than the political, Baby Reindeer does well to shine a light on the ineptitude of the police and the gap in legislation when it comes to stalking. Donny goes to the police multiple times and is not taken seriously or told there is nothing that can be done. This is sadly the case for many stalking victims, most but not all of whom are women. In many cases, people – again, mainly women, are murdered by their stalkers, and often this could have been avoided had victims not been neglected by police and social services.

Baby Reindeer really is very good. It is important to hear the voice of a male victim of stalking and sexual abuse. Not only does this help reduce the stigma surrounding male victims of sexual violence, but it also serves to undermine the element of ‘victim blaming’ often used against women victims: if this can happen to a man, even a relatively strong one, it can happen to a woman and neither one is ‘asking for it.’

It is good that there is art that is thought provoking, that criticises the state, however subtly, and also manages to be entertaining. Baby Reindeer is incredibly powerful and well worth watching.

Baby Reindeer is available to watch on Netflix

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