Or Nah? is a feature where we watch and review the first episode of a new TV show. We’ll let you know if it’s worth checking out. As always, these reviews are the opinion of the reviewer, but we’ll try to adequately explain why you should or shouldn’t give the show a chance and provide shows for comparison.
Patrick Melrose- S1E1 – “Bad News” | Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Sebastian Maltz, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Prasanna Puwanarajah Jessica Raine, Indira Varma, and Hugo Weaving
The series is adapted from Edward St Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose novels, which are semi-autobiographical.
What’s It About?
Life as Patrick Melrose appears luxe and decadent, but it’s also desperate and unfulfilled. We meet Patrick in London in July of 1982. While he’s shooting up a bit of heroin Patrick receives a call from his father’s friend Nicholas, who’s living in New York City. David, the elder Melrose, has died and it is up to Patrick to collect his remains. The conversation between Nicholas and Patrick is polite, full of posh reserve, and to the point. Patrick visits his girlfriend Debbie to inform her of the news and he’s almost gleeful that his father is dead. She suggests that Patrick use this opportunity to give up drugs and pull his life together. Patrick then ends up at the house of Julia, another lady friend, and post coitus she gives him a valium while they discuss his father’s death. Unlike Debbie, Julia doubts that Patrick will be able to go sober.
The next day as Patrick prepares himself for the trip across the pond, he bends syringes to prevent himself from shooting up, but before he leaves Patrick decides to take a little heroin to relax himself for the stressful trip ahead of him. At the airport Patrick’s friend Johnny reminds him to not score drugs off the street. Patrick assures Johnny that he will return to London a new man, but like Julia, Johnny doesn’t seem too sure that Patrick will pull this off. Patrick lands in NYC and starts to suffer from withdrawals in the taxi and as he checks into his usual suite at The Drake. Before going to view his father’s body, Patrick succumbs to his cravings and goes on a walk in the park and secures quaaludes while ignoring the concerned drug dealer’s advice to drink water with the pill. Patrick’s time in New York is mostly filled with searching for a variety of drugs in a myriad of places where a posh man usually wouldn’t be caught dead.
During his time in New York, Patrick meets up with a few of his father’s friends. The first is Anne, who seemed to know both of his parents. Their meeting doesn’t go well, partly due to the quaaludes that Patrick took and partly because Patrick doesn’t want to discuss something from his childhood that Anne attempts to bring up. At some point during the meeting Patrick literally crawls away to the bathroom to shoot up cocaine and abruptly ends their meeting.
Patrick also meets with his father’s old posh British friends, Nicholas and George, along with their American friend at a private club. They discuss his father and repeat some of this father’s favorite quotes including, “Only the best or go without,” “Never apologize, never explain,” and “Things were better in the 18th century.” Patrick takes the quotes too far and repeats a less acceptable phrase from his father:
“Despise all women, most of all your mother.”
The conversation becomes awkward and the American starts to discuss his hunting exploits despite the other men’s protestations. Patrick tells a haunting hunting story that he first overheard when he was eight years old. We flashback to Patrick’s childhood, when he is playing in plain sight of his father and Nicholas. Patrick’s father tells Nicholas the story of a hunt that provides some insight into his father’s cruelty and brutal approach to life.
After a horrible evening out with a friend of Debbie’s, who Patrick tries to hit on, Patrick attempts to destroy the box with his father’s remains and to commit suicide. As he blacks out he flashes back to his childhood when his father has moved to a place that is clearly beneath his motto of accepting “nothing but the best or go without.”. Patrick also flashes back to a time with his mother. After he wakes up the next morning, Patrick disposes of his syringe and he has a slightly lighter energy. At the airport Patrick calls his fried Johnny and tells him he’s going to get clean, and of course, Johnny is supportive, but hesitant. When he asks Patrick what he will do instead of doing drugs, Patrick cries and has no answer. Crying is definitely a healthy place to start.
Benedict Cumberbatch practically makes anything he does magic. His portrayal of Patrick’s complexity is spot on. Despite the constant drug use and hints at a tortured childhood, the show has a fair amount of dark humor. For example, the awkward but funny sequence when Patrick goes to view his father’s body but is sent to a lively wake for another person. The absurdity of Patrick’s temporary eye patch accessory is another spot of comedy.
The layer of pain and hurt is palpable and just beneath the surface of every scene and it is very hard to portray someone who is high, let alone going through constant drug induced highs and lows. It is even harder to make the viewer feel what the character is feeling. Between Cumberbatch’s acting, the directing, and the cinematography, the audience feels some of those highs and lows. This is not quite on the level of Legion, which can be entertainingly jarring and frightening, but it is startling and effective.
Hugo Weaving is another highlight. We don’t see much of him the first episode, but the scenes we do see hint at a horrible (at best) relationship between father and son.
The flashbacks are a little annoying because they are used a lot and not enough time is spent in the flashbacks. Although the flashbacks are artfully used to demonstrate memories and similar events in the past and present, they are not fulfilling, and the viewer is left wanting more. Given that there are four more episodes, answers will be revealed; hopefully in fuller flashbacks.
Another bad but good point is the Carrie Bradshaw type of narration that Patrick uses. Although the narration has a feeling of being passé what is unique is that the narration is a mix of Patrick’s thoughts and other voices in his head including that of his old nanny. Consequently, the narration helps the viewer get inside Patrick’s troubled mind even more.
While this could be viewed another boring show about white people’s problems or another story of a poor little rich boy, the complexity and humor make it worth watching. So many questions are left unanswered, but the major ones are: What exactly did Patrick’s father do that made Patrick the man he is today? Where is his mother and where was she while he was growing up? What was Anna trying to discuss with Patrick that he so desperately wanted to avoid? Will Patrick get sober and heal his wounds?
Watch This if You Like: Raised by Wolves; Love Nina.