Review by Tatiana Miranda
If there's one thing that Netflix knows how to do right, it's how to make a good true crime drama. From Mindhunters to Inventing Anna, the streaming service has found its niche in fictionalized accounts of true crime events. Netflix's latest true crime series is Painkiller, a limited series based on Barry Meier's 2003 book of the same name. The series follows the beginnings of the opioid crisis — more specifically, the involvement of Purdue Pharma's OxyContin. This may sound familiar, as this story was also the premise of Hulu's 2021 series Dopesick.
Director Peter Berg, who also directed Friday Night Lights, attempts to separate Painkillers from Hulu's predecessor, but it still falls in line with other homogeneous shows and documentaries that have come out of the abundance of streaming platforms lately. Notable examples include Hulu's Candy and Max's Love & Death, Peacock's A Friend of the Family and Netflix's Abducted in Plain Sight, and most recently, Hulu's Pam & Tommy and Netflix's Pamela, A Love Story. While some of these can be synergistic, as one medium might be a documentary and another might be a semi-fictionalized recreation, Dopesick and Painkiller have a fair amount of similarities that make it difficult not to compare the two.
Still, though, Painkiller takes a captivating approach in telling the story of OxyContin's creation and effects. The show has a semi-linear approach, following U.S. attorney investigator Edie's account of her introduction to OxyContin and her work in trying to take down Purdue Pharma. Through Edie's lens, we see the greed and ignorance that led to the creation and distribution of OxyContin. Matthew Broderick portrays an exceptionally unlikable Richard Sackler, who inherits Purdue Pharma and attempts to live up to the legacy of his uncle, Arthur Sackler.
Beyond the Sackler family's avarice, Painkiller also highlights the involvement of pharmaceutical representatives in spreading the use of this drug. In the path of a product pipeline, the series trails Richard Sackler's invention as Purdue Pharma sales reps get it into the hands of patients. Through the fictionalized story of Glen Kryger, an auto mechanic who is prescribed OxyContin after a workplace injury, we see how easily one can get addicted to the drug and begin to abuse it.
One of Painkiller's greatest strengths is how it doesn't singularly focus on Richard Sackler or Edie and John Brownlee as they sue Perdue Pharma. Instead, it encompasses the variety of subgroups that were affected by the creation of OxyContin. With this, though, the ending of the series does come across as messy as it attempts to tie up loose ends for the main characters while still ending on a poignant note. Nonetheless, Painkiller treats the subject with respect while also prioritizing entertainment, which is not always an easy thing to achieve.
Painkiller begins streaming on Netflix on August 10. All six episodes reviewed.