Describing the damage opioids can inflict on individuals and communities is nothing new to television. Two Showtime series come to mind: “Nurse Jackie,” which featured a medical professional taking pills, and “American Rust,” the locally shot crime drama with a story set in the midst of the crisis. opioids in western Pennsylvania.
Rarely, however, does a show attempt such an in-depth examination from multiple perspectives on how so many Americans became addicted to opioids in the first place. This rigor in its approach to this national problem is what sets the Hulu “Dopesick” series apart from other entertainment industry efforts to portray the dangers of opioid abuse.
The show, which stars Michael Keaton, is an eight-episode adaptation of Beth Macy’s 2018 book, “Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors and the Drug Company that Addicted America.” Hulu provided critics with seven of the eight episodes, all of which jump in time and space to paint a full picture of OxyContin’s origins, how it came to be such a household name, and why it has proven so difficult to regulate. .
It focuses on the developers of OxyContin Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family, the sales representatives who helped convince local doctors that it was a safe pain reliever, and the residents of a small mountain town of Virginie who is slowly devastated by the drug. “Dopesick” also takes the time to show how hard some Justice Department and Drug Enforcement Administration officials have worked in their efforts to deal with the problem.
Keaton plays Dr. Samuel Finnix, a trusted physician in this small Virginia community. OxyContin comes into her life at the insistence of sales rep Billy Cutler (Will Poulter), who develops a complicated relationship with his job and coworker Amber (Phillipa Soo). The drug soon enters the lives of many in Dr Finnix’s community, including Betsy (Kaitlyn Dever), who works in the local mines.
Most of the Sackler family are also in the foreground, especially Richard Sackler (Michael Stuhlbarg), who organizes the broadcast of OxyContin in the name of profit. The law enforcement side of the equation is primarily represented by Rick Mountcastle (Peter Sarsgaard) and Randy Ramseyer (John Hoogenakker) from the Department of Justice, as well as Bridget Meyer (Rosario Dawson) from the DEA.
“Dopesick” is not so much about the explosive plot developments as it is the small decisions that made this highly addictive drug so widely available. You’ll learn a lot about the inner machinations of family drug companies, the incentives of sales reps, the Food and Drug Administration labeling process, and more.
These are episodes of about an hour, and some sections seem to move at a brisk pace. Again, though, it’s not an action-packed show, and it shouldn’t be. Sometimes adult dramas are just that. There are sporadic adrenaline rushes running through some of the more tedious stretches, and viewers will likely become more interested in the overall story as they become more attached to the characters.
Some scenes fluctuate from year to year, which can create a bit of confusion, although it is usually spelled out when everything is happening. There’s so much going on that it’s easy to lose sight of the timeline or feel like some storylines aren’t getting their fair share of attention. Of course, one could argue that the narrative chaos mirrors what those who lived through the opioid crisis must have felt.
It’s a rare opportunity to see Keaton tackle a TV project, and boy, he delivers when given time to flesh out his character. Dr Finnix is ââjust a local doctor who is made to believe that OxyContin is the answer to his patients’ pain. There is no doubt that his intentions were pure, although it is easy to become frustrated by his naivety.
Dever continues her streak of strong dramatic performances as the sweet and innocent Betsy, whose entire existence is defined by her addiction. Poulter displays the most positive growth of any character as he slowly battles the effects of the product he offers, while Soo brings to life one of the most loathsome characters you’ll see on TV who never commits no violent crime.
Hoogenakker is a lot of fun as the folk foil of Sarsgaard’s more buttoned up investigator. Dawson is a righteous fury as she makes it her personal mission to properly regulate OxyContin, if not to take it off the market altogether. Stuhlbarg might be this show’s most compelling screen presence as Richard Sackler, whose body language and vocal cadence betray a man who seems to care nothing but the bottom line of his business.
While “Dopesick” sometimes lacks structural consistency and propulsive momentum, it typically makes up for these shortcomings with strong performance and a tangible idea of ââhow many corners of American life have been affected by opioids, not to mention the lives they have. ruined and continue to have an impact. Its reach is truly impressive.