The latest true-crime docuseries from acclaimed documentarian Erin Lee Carr (At the Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Gymnastics Scandal), How to Fix a Drug Scandal seems destined to be Netflix’s next sensation. However, even though the story is truly fascinating, the approach that Carr takes in telling it is often unsatisfying.
The film tells the story of a scandal in Massachusetts in which two crime drug lab analysts were charged with tampering with evidence, one of them soon being discovered to have used the drugs she was tasked with investigating. This is the type of so-crazy-it-must-be-true story that Netflix docuseries have become known for in recent years, and on that front, it certainly delivers.
That said, the series is not particularly well-paced, and as a result, it will not rank among the most entertaining that the service has to offer. The four episodes of the series clock in at a total runtime of a little under four hours, but at least an hour of that runtime is dedicated to unnecessary subplots that aren’t particularly compelling.
The main subject of the documentary, Sonja Farak, has what is undeniably the most interesting story of the bunch. Her tragic rise and fall from respected forensic scientist to criminal is the type of infotainment that true-crime-loving audiences have come to expect. This portion of the documentary also allows for some interesting exploration of the flaws of the American justice system.
Had the series focused exclusively on Farak, it likely would have been great, yet Carr seems to feel the need to present the entire story rather than just the important details. As a result, almost an entire episode is dedicated to Annie Dookhan, another analyst who was discovered before Farak. While this is important context, ten or so minutes would have sufficed, an entire episode being an absurd amount of time to dedicate to this portion of the story.
Then, in the final two episodes, Carr includes an aside about one of Farak’s victims and the lawyer who helped bring justice to all of the people she potentially wrongly convicted. Although this is the most emotional portion of the series, too little time is spent developing the audience’s connection to these people, and as a result, the series as a whole suffers.
On a technical level, Carr edits the film in a way that is very entertaining and done in a way to help the audience get as much out of the story as possible, but viewers will be able to see past the flashiness to see how hollow the series actually is. Some interesting use of testimony recordings aside, the film resorts to a lot of gimmicks that shallowly intrigue.
How to Fix a Drug Scandal is ultimately a very disappointing docuseries. Even though it has one of the most insane true stories in a while, it doesn’t have the balanced narrative that it needs to work.
How to Fix a Drug Scandal streams on Netflix beginning April 1. All four episodes reviewed.