'Bodkin' review: Gives the lie to true crime


'Look at us. You know we're happy to be here, right? Oh yeah? What do you know.' Photos: Handout

There's something about true crime shows and podcasts that gets under my skin. Hey, not casting shade on other people's viewing/listening choices here, it's just me.

An odd sentiment, perhaps, for someone in the business of presenting news and telling stories.

But as the debate over true crime's ethics and power still rages, perhaps even more strongly in an era of instant gratification and universal access to storytelling platforms, age-old questions still apply: How much information is too much information? How far is too far? Whose business is so much of this anyway, but that of the victims and their loved ones?

Maybe it's just that too often, there is little or no appearance of these questions having been asked along the way.

Given my predisposition towards the sub-genre, though, I had a blast with last year's Black Mirror episode Loch Henry. Maybe not the best from the series – but wow, that "reveal"!

And now, on the same streamer – one that has no shortage of genuine (cough) true crime fare – we have Bodkin, where a podcaster and his entourage come to the titular, "quaint" Irish town seeking answers to a 20-year-old mystery.

That mystery: a couple of decades ago, three people mysteriously vanished on the night of Samhain, the festival marking the end of harvest season and the beginning of winter.

The players: Gilbert Power (Will Forte, SNL's MacGruber), an American true crime podcaster trying to revive his career and rediscover his Irish roots; Emmy Sizergh (Robyn Cara), his eager-to-please assistant; and unhappy camper Dove Maloney (Siobhan Cullen), an investigative journalist with the same media company sent to help Gilbert – but actually, to lie low while the authorities probe one of her exposes that led to a whistleblower's death.

After years of dispassionate observing, Gilbert finally mastered the knack for turning invisible in a crowd.After years of dispassionate observing, Gilbert finally mastered the knack for turning invisible in a crowd.

Perhaps a greater claim to fame than its chosen sub-genre may be Bodkin's executive producers – the Obamas. Yes, Barack and Michelle join series creator Jez Scharf and a host of others here, fresh from their producing stint on last year's Leave The World Behind (that "apocalyptic" tale with Ethan Hawke, Mahershala Ali and Julia Roberts).

The good news is that these names don't automatically make the laid-back (perhaps too much so around the middle stretch), darkly comedic Bodkin any sort of politically correct fare.

It's not afraid to have its characters curse up a storm; manipulate the system (whichever system happens to be in effect at their present location); cast aspersions on nuns (oh dear); mock authority (notably, a pair of bumbling Interpol agents and the faceless government types waiting to unleash the Official Secrets Act on Dove); and almost elevate to folk-hero status a wanted criminal who's lying low among the populace.

Scharf and his savvy writing team also challenge our perceptions of and attitudes toward the characters by, initially, making his central trio rather unlikeable.

Dove kind of forgot that to have fun at a party, you need to start with a smile.Dove kind of forgot that to have fun at a party, you need to start with a smile.

Gilbert's a buffoon (as several supporting characters also note); Emmy is such an eager beaver that initially, she trips up the team because she tries to do too much at once and achieves nothing; and Dove... oh wow, you will seldom find a more disagreeable, get-me-off-this-damned-planet-already curmudgeon (and she doesn't even have any noticeable wrinkles) with close to zero redeeming qualities – initially.

You have to think things have grown pretty dire for Dove when the podcaster has to be the one citing journalism ethics to the... journalist.

But the genius of this effort is in how it slowly up-ends our perceptions of these characters from those "oh-so-important" first impressions, perhaps hinting that often, true crime chronicles may not accurately capture the aspects of their subjects' histories and circumstances that truly matter.

It's best enjoyed with some breathing space between episodes, allowing Gilbert's appropriate comments that open and close most instalments to sink in, along with the layers of the central mystery that were peeled away.

At the very least, it should also serve up some food for thought the next time we devour an actual true crime story, pausing to add a little consideration for the lives lost or destroyed by the events therein, rather than treat it all as popcorn spectacle.


All seven episodes of Bodkin are available to stream on Netflix.

7.5 10

Summary:

Needs more 'Welcome To Night Vale'

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