Drugs don’t get much love on TV. Sure, there was AMC’s incredible “Breaking Bad.” But addiction itself was an after-thought. Countless other shows depict drug use as comical, benign or horrific—but where is the window into an addict’s soul?
Fear not: Now we have Showtime’s new series “Patrick Melrose” (premieres May 12) based on the novels by Edward St. Aubyn, whose depiction of a damaged but spoiled British rich dude would equally impress both Hunter S. Thompson and Cheech & Chong. The first episode plays like “Fear & Loathing” in NY as Melrose, played stunningly by Benedict Cumberbatch, visits the city to retrieve his detestable father’s corpse and ends up on a three-day bender as he trashes hotel rooms and embarrasses himself in front of loose acquaintances ranging from drug dealers to debutantes. All the while, he mitigates his own bad behavior by doling out money.
As Cumberbatch noted during the winter TCA tour, the books expose an “upper class system that’s crumbling… And not just cash-poor landed gentry, but just the inherent snobbery, the treachery, the self-loathing, the cynicism, the patronizing attitudes, the racism, the sexism, all the isms, and how they were exposed and rightly vilified in the most humorous, entertaining, and at times terrifyingly dark and real ways.”
That pretty well describes Showtime’s faithful adaptation of this world, but it’s Cumberbatch’s performance that truly stands out here. If you know him mostly through his work as Sherlock Holmes or as Dr. Strange, this one’s worth a viewing just to witness his endless range and ride the bare-knuckled terror of his character’s pathetic attempts to kick a heroin habit that seems too gloriously decadent to give up. We see how it’s destroying his soul. And so does he. But this deep study into the brain acrobatics of a junkie makes us understand the tricks that addiction can play on the human mind. It’s an acid trip of a show that gives all of us a way into the madness of an addicted mind—with just enough dread and sadness and humor to make a profound statement. – Michael Grebb