The Watcher, a new true-crime thriller series set in a suburban home, appears to be a tempting product at first glance. With captivating true events and a great cast, it has a solid foundation. However, a closer inspection of Netflix’s most recent listing reveals a fragile framework and an inconsistent design.
The swiftness with which our expectations for the seven-part series give way to a sinking sensation reflects the experience of the show’s primary characters, following their relocation to an extravagant, savings-draining new home in a commuter town.
After leaving the city in pursuit of community and safety, Nora (Naomi Watts), Dean (Bobby Cannavale), and their two kids realize that both are scarce in Westfield, New Jersey.
Initially, the intrusive, unwelcoming neighbors appear to be a particularly waspish nest in a Waspy environment. However, the new residents soon started receiving disturbing notes from an anonymous snoop. Signing off as “the watcher,” he asserts that he is the property’s defender, alludes to an intimate familiarity with the family, and makes unnerving requests on behalf of the home.
With the police acting in a curiously indifferent manner, the Brannocks are left in an increasingly paranoid state, turning on their neighbors and, eventually, on themselves.
While Watts and Cannavale try their best to imbue their characters with emotional weight, their co-stars appear pleased to let free. The crotchety couple next door (Richard Kind and Margo Martindale), the doddering local conservationist (Mia Farrow), and the haughty, self-serving real estate agent (Jennifer Coolidge) all have a knowing, caricature-like air.
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It appears that the performers are privy to a joke that nobody thought to share with the two leads.
The scene-stealing supporting characters inject some comedy into a ponderous plot, but they are also emblematic of controversial writer-director Ryan Murphy’s trademark (and typically incorrect) indulgence in archness and schlocky shocks.
Instead of addressing serious concerns about security and surveillance, the show revels in speculations about a local satanic cult and other gruesome crimes.
The Watcher diminishes the effect of the actual tale the more it pushes towards sensationalism and extravagance. Nevertheless, despite the obviousness of its techniques — such as jump scares and an incessant string-led accompaniment — and its antiquated frenzy about the hellishness of suburbia, the program manages to maintain our interest.
As we wait for another episode to load, it’s difficult not to feel a bit like the Brannocks, who stay despite their better judgment.