Review: Benedict Cumberbatch can’t save Netflix miniseries ‘Eric’ from bizarre, inconsistent tone

WTOP's Jason Fraley reviews the Netflix miniseries 'Eric' (Part 1)

Could Mr. Snuffleupagus help you find your missing child before he gets snuffed out on the street?

That’s roughly the premise of the new British miniseries “Eric,” which premieres Thursday on Netflix for six episodes brought to you by the letter “B” for “bizarre.”

The series follows Vincent, the puppeteer of the children’s television show “Good Day Sunshine” whose life falls apart when his 9-year-old son, Edgar, goes missing in 1980s New York City. Should he have allowed Edgar to walk to school alone? Is he an irresponsible father? And is Edgar’s idea for a new puppet named Eric the key to finding him?


Benedict Cumberbatch is arguably one of the finest actors we have going today, becoming a household name in TV’s “Sherlock” and Marvel’s “Dr. Strange,” while earning Oscar nominations for “The Imitation Game” and “The Power of the Dog.” Likewise, Gaby Hoffmann has grown up from her child performance in “Field of Dreams” (“There’s a man out there on your lawn”) to earn three Emmy nods for “Girls” and “Transparent.”

Together, Cumberbatch and Hoffmann give emotional — if unlikable — performances as the deeply flawed parents worried about their son’s whereabouts. They chew the scenery as the bickering parents blaming each other’s indiscretions for their son’s disappearance, recalling the great cinematic arguments of Jean-Luc Godard’s “Contempt” and Richard Linklater’s “Before Midnight” as they hurl accusation after accusation.

This provides plenty of red herrings for showrunner Abi Morgan (“Shame”), who cleverly unravels the missing-child mystery plot, bolstered by dynamic visual compositions by BAFTA-nominated director Lucy Forbes (“This Is Going to Hurt”). Unfortunately, the engrossing psychological-thriller tone is constantly at odds with the quirkier fantasy elements as Vincent talks to his 7-foot-tall imaginary friend named Eric.

It’s odd to have such lighthearted hallucinations juxtaposed with gritty shots of kids in danger. It would be like Big Bird appearing in the middle of “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991), Oscar the Grouch at the climax of “Zodiac” (2007) or Cookie Monster at the end of “Prisoners” (2013). It instantly shatters the tension and takes us out of the suspense every time Eric appears to crack a lame joke about this serious case.

I’m assuming the filmmakers are trying to channel “Birdman” (2014) where Michael Keaton spoke to his superhero alter-ego, but there wasn’t a child-abduction plot there. It only worked because the entire movie was about Keaton creating a Broadway play to shed his Hollywood past. It would work if it were a Marvel superhero following Cumberbatch with taunts about the genre, but when it’s not Dr. Strange, it’s just strange.

In the end, the filmmakers deserve credit for tackling a timely topic, from the Elmo scandal of 2012 to the Nickelodeon scandal of 2024. They also deserve credit for deftly crafting a final episode that ties everything together from small-time criminals to citywide conspiracies. Still, no matter how hard they try, they’re working with a tone that is constantly at war with itself. It’s a show that can’t decide what it wants to be.

WTOP's Jason Fraley reviews the Netflix miniseries 'Eric' (Part 2)

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Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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