Stop Scrolling and Watch ‘Baby Reindeer’

Synopsis: The story follows writer and performer Richard Gadd’s warped relationship with a female stalker and the impact it has on him as he is ultimately forced to face a deep, dark, buried trauma.
Stars: Richard Gadd, Jessica Gunning
Writer: Richard Gadd
Directors: Weronika Tofilska, Josephine, Bornebusch

Streaming services are fantastic, offering a legion of movies and shows to consume. However, the real challenge lies in the endless scrolling required to find a show or movie worth your time.

Occasionally, a television show emerges that captures the attention of a wide audience. A few years ago, it was Squid Game, or as I refer to it, the best show that has come out during these pandemic times. Last year, it was Beef, and so far, in 2024, the show in that spotlight is Baby Reindeer.

I caught the trailer and added it to my extensive list of shows, but a co-worker insisted that I prioritise it. As I am more engulfed in films, I made the time for this seven-episode limited series from Netflix. Part of the attraction is that each episode is around 30 minutes long, making it a quick watch.

After consuming the series in one sitting, I was left with many feelings, which we will discuss.

Baby Reindeer is the story of Donny Dunn (Richard Gadd). He works in a London bar and is an aspiring comedian. From the comedy perspective, he’s not very good, as audiences don’t seem to take to his material, but he isn’t giving up on that dream.

Due to circumstances, Donny lives with his ex-girlfriend’s mother. He is trying to ‘make it’ but seems stuck in a rut.

One day at the bar, a woman comes in weeping. Donny asks what she wants to drink, but she can’t afford anything. He offers her one on the house, which appears to lift her spirits. She says her name is Martha and claims to be a very successful lawyer with many big-name contacts. But Donny wonders, if her claims are true, why can’t she afford even a cup of tea?

Martha (Jessica Gunning) becomes a regular at the bar, and at first, it seems innocent. She comes in to chat with Donnie, and it’s pleasant, but of course, it takes a turn.

She starts emailing him constantly and referring to him as her ‘Baby Reindeer’ for reasons that become known later.

Initially, it is easy to draw comparisons to movies like Misery or Fatal Attraction, with a persistent character who attempts to plant themselves in the protagonist’s life. As the series progresses, however, a lot more happens, including an inadvertent game of cat and mouse, although Donnie doesn’t want to play. He tries to avoid Martha while she works to interject herself in every aspect of his life.

Martha’s behaviour forces Donnie to deal with issues from his past that have profoundly impacted him.

So, Donnie is dealing not only with the fact that he is being stalked but also with past events that are haunting him.

The show checks off many boxes, such as exploring harassment, dealing with trauma, and the overall need to be liked and accepted. I hold Squid Game in extremely high regard, and the two shows have more in common than you might think.

First, they are both breakout hits stemming from individuals who were not widely known. And, in the same way that many perceive Squid Game merely as a tale of the haves and the have-nots, it is tempting to view Baby Reindeer solely as a narrative about stalking. In both shows, there is so much more going on.

Like Squid Game, this show demands multiple viewings and deserves to be dissected, analysed, and discussed.

The acting in this series is incredible. It’s one thing to rave about performances from established actors like Meryl Streep or Denzel Washington, but this level of acting from two people who aren’t well-known is incredible. Jessica Gunning and Richard Gadd deliver some of the year’s most outstanding performances, not just on television but across all media. Period.

Jessica Gunning creates a sense of fear and sympathy for her character, sometimes in the same scene. Her portrayal of Martha is more than simply ‘a stalker’; she plays a lost soul who is desperate to fit in and be accepted. Her recognisable laugh in the role rivals Joaquin Phoenix’s from Joker. Marhta’s ability to go from sweet to scary is incredibly subtle and equally terrifying.

In years past, characters like Alex Forrest (Fatal Attraction) and Annie Wilkes (Misery) benchmarked this type of role. Today, you are sure to hear people saying, ‘Don’t be a Martha!’ Gunning has taken the role and immortalised it, but is Martha a victim or a villain? That will probably be debated, as there is no clear answer.

For his part, this film marks the arrival of Richard Gadd. His IMDB credits include writing for Sex Education, but this is the project that will make his name recognisable going forward.

From a writing standpoint, he has taken his one-man show, which inspired Netflix to approach him and carved out seven excellently scripted episodes. Each 30-minute-ish episode (the longest coming in at 45) doesn’t overstay its welcome and tells the story concisely and effectively.

The first episode is the tamest and sets the stage for what is to come. Episodes four and six hit like a gut punch but serve to solidify the show as world-class.

The story is based on Gadd’s life experience, but it’s not shot in a documentary format. The level of vulnerability he exhibits through his character is remarkable and is a significant reason why this show has become a ‘must-watch’. As the protagonist, he doesn’t allow his character to be a hero but instead exposes all of Donnie’s flaws for the world to see, and the result is some heartbreaking television.

The series is shot beautifully with close-ups when needed to exemplify a character’s feelings during a scene, but the filmmaking also feels raw, like the overall show.

Without giving too much away, this series tackles issues that aren’t commonly discussed on screen, and there is much to discuss.

In a world of sequels, reboots, and remakes, Baby Reindeer is different and original.

Baby Reindeer is the best show of 2024 and, quite frankly, the best show since Squid Game.

The series’ final scene hits like a gut punch and demonstrates the brilliance of Gadd’s writing talent.

In a world of never-ending scrolling, one occasionally comes along that demands your attention and deserves it. Right now, that show is Baby Reindeer.

Grade: A

Watch the movie trailer: