Not more Dahmer: 5 reasons why Netflix’s “Monster” might actually be worthwhile

Many of us are fed up with the infamous serial killer case and its often illogical retelling in the media. But Netflix’s new series might actually be worth delving back into Dahmer.

With the true crime documentary craze of the past few years, it’s hard to believe that the notorious Jeffrey Dahmer case has remained mostly in the shadows. That is, until today, when Netflix released a new miniseries, “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story,” about the serial killer case that shocked Milwaukee and the nation.

Despite its gruesome details and national reputation, some could easily find themselves tuned into this latest Jeffrey Dahmer saga. The series is coming to streaming services as the media’s obsession with murderous twists seems increasingly tired and sometimes even bordering on distasteful. Milwaukee viewers may feel it even more than others, having dealt with decades of Dahmer’s shadow hanging over the city. Even worse, the film retellings often ranged from bad to worse, in some cases even starring Disney doubles. (And when it’s not Dahmer, it’s “Making a Murderer,” “Slender Man” and others that turn state trauma into entertainment.)

But even for those skeptical of another serial killer taunting Milwaukee’s most famous killer, this new Netflix miniseries looks more interesting than most. Here are five reasons why “Monster” could hopefully become a return to the Dahmer case.

There is a really good cast

There have been several Jeffrey Dahmer projects over the years — but probably none as star-studded as “Monster.” The cast includes established personalities such as Richard Jenkins (“The Visitor”, “The Shape of Water” and many others) and Niecy Nash, who is mostly known for her comedic work on “Reno 911” but was really great with a meatier role – verbal no pun intended — in the Netflix family sommelier drama BBQ “Uncorked. Retro stars Molly Ringwald and Michael Learned also make extended appearances in the new drama, flexing their muscles far from the lightweight roles that made them famous in the past.

And Dahmer, of course, is played by Evan Peters, a very talented actor who stole scenes in later “X-Men” movies as Quicksilver and in the popular HBO drama “Mare of Easttown,” as well as a regular in Ryan. Murphy’s many, many productions. And on that note…

Ryan Murphy is involved, for better or for worse

Even since his breakout years with “Nip/Tuck” and “Glee,” Ryan Murphy has become one of the most prominent producers in Hollywood — as well as one of the most prolific shows like “Hollywood,” “Ratched,” “The Politician.” “Pose” and “Halston” in just the last three years. (And that’s not including long-running series like “9-1-1” and his film work, directing “The Prom” and producing several others.) One consistent throughout his rise: He’s been inconsistent. Some of his work is transcendent, some of his work is trash, and some of his work is transcendent trash.

However, without a doubt one of its best contributions during its recent run was the anthology series “American Crime Story,” which got off to a very strong start with its breakout debut, “The People Vs. OJ Simpson” in 2016. The series — centered on the murder of Gianni Versace and the Bill Clinton impeachment scandal — didn’t garner the same level of buzz as its debut, quality remained high as each miniseries delved into its potentially sordid true crime subject matter with depth, humanity and a look at why these tabloid stories matter today and what they reflect about our society.

While “Monster” doesn’t technically fall under “American Crime Story,” it feels of a piece with Murphy’s production, delving more thoughtfully and deeply into what these real-life stories say and mean beneath their grim and gaudy. details.

There are surprises behind the scenes

While “Monster” has a number of notable names in front of the camera, its most impressive collaborators may actually be behind the scenes.

In addition to Murphy’s production credits, some Netflix miniseries come directed by Carl Franklin, a veteran helmer with a sharp eye and a deep resume full of impressive work on the big screen (“The Devil in Bull Clothing”) and the small (“The Leftovers,” a similar true-life serial killer drama “Mindhunter”). And speaking of sharp eyes, almost the entire series was shot by up-and-coming cinematographer Jason McCormick, who shot indie favorite “Lemon” and coming-of-age breakthrough “Booksmart.”

But perhaps the most interesting names are behind the music: Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, the modern renaissance men who dominated rock and now moved on to film scores. While fellow multimedia stars like Trent Reznor, Daft Punk, and Jonny Greenwood consume plenty of oxygen for their award-winning scores, Cave and Ellis have also made some impressive compositional contributions in recent years — notably on westerns like “The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford, “The Road”, “Lawless”, “Hell or High Water” and “Wind River”. It will be fascinating to hear how his often sparse and tonal music sets the scene in a different world than his usual work: Milwaukee 30 years ago. (Well, technically Los Angeles, because that’s where “Monster” was filmed.)

It should have something to say

Too many recent true-crime miniseries offer nothing more than real-life horror thrills, quarterly plots, and streamed viewing for their respective services. There’s plenty of crime out there, but it’s often not a reason to spend an entire movie on it—much less hours and hours of a mini-series—other than to stare at humanity’s worst.

However, Murphy’s true crime output tends to go deeper than just recaps of lurid headlines, many dealing with social ills then and now, the impact of celebrity and the media, and much more. The same seems to be true of “Monster,” as even simply the preview seems to unpack the societal oversights, shortcomings, and prejudices that allowed Dahmer’s murderous rampage to continue. Hopefully, there’s more to think about with “Monster” than just murder.

The preview looks pretty good

If none of that sold you on “Monster”, then maybe I’ll give the miniseries itself a try. Released just a few days ago, the trailer does a tight job of selling the new show, highlighting the uneasy aesthetic (in addition to feeling like Murphy’s “American Crime Story,” it also doesn’t seem too stylistically different from his weirder “American Horror Story” series), as well as the larger points that strives for this all-too-true urban legend.

All ten episodes of “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” are available on Netflix starting today. And if you want to read more about the true story, click here for a look back at the case from the perspective of those who lived through it.

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