Netflix shouldn’t take the wrong lessons from Baby Reindeer

Netflix shouldn’t take the wrong lessons from Baby Reindeer

With Baby Reindeer, Netflix has ‘Fleabagged’ a shocking true-life stalking story into a seven-part series, but what if the streaming platform takes things too far?

Out of nowhere, Richard Gadd’s limited series Baby Reindeer has appeared on Netflix, instantly shooting into the top 10 chart and social media trends. Gadd’s story is mostly autobiographical, lifting experiences from his own life into a one-man play that’s now been adapted for TV. Focusing on fledgling comedian Donny (Gadd) who takes pity on Martha (Jessica Gunning) while working at the local pub, Baby Reindeer is a cautionary tale of stalking that works against the femme fatale stereotype. 

Though its seven episodes fly by at an alarming pace, each is an unbearably grueling watch. Gadd never shies away from his own vulnerability, digging deep into each part of his personal trauma in the most visceral way possible. While the first three episodes chronicle the effects of Martha’s stalking, Episode 4 takes viewers into Donny’s past. It’s here we learn why Donny’s unique behavioral patterns have formed, already dubbed one of the most “chilling” episodes of TV this year.

Baby Reindeer isn’t the only Netflix show that takes a lot of inspiration from real-life tragedy, and it won’t be the last. However, Gadd’s craft is so exposing that it potentially leads the streaming platform down a path of taking the wrong lessons from his vulnerability. Fan opinion has proved time and time again that Netflix isn’t making the decisions people want — and it could potentially do the same once more. Warning — contains content some may find distressing.

Netflix has ‘Fleabagged’ Baby Reindeer — and it works

Netflix shouldn’t take the wrong lessons from Baby Reindeer

On the surface of it, Netflix has ‘Fleabagged’ its content when it comes to Baby Reindeer. Both shows have had the same trajectory, starting their life as a one-personal play at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, with each featuring a noticeable level of personal trauma and anecdotal references. From there, both Gadd and Phoebe Waller-Bridge took years to cultivate an adaptation for the screen, winning over both critics and fans alike.

Each writer plunges their audience head-first into an array of subjects that society often doesn’t want to touch, delving into painful personal journeys that take the scenic route through life-ruining hardship. It’s a strategy that worked scarily well for Fleabag and now looks to be repeated again for Baby Reindeer. The difference? Waller-Bridge originally developed her story for a smaller-scale BBC, and Gadd is facing off against a profit-driven global streaming platform.


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This isn’t to give both Netflix and Baby Reindeer credit where credit is due. The series is a masterclass in how to tread a precarious line, injecting hard-to-handle subject matter with bursts of irrefutable humor. Episode 4 marks an entirely new feat, with Donny’s past rape and sexual assault brought to light through a series of brutal and ultra-realistic flashbacks. Gadd goes to the places he needs to, and it makes for sobering and powerful viewing. But what happens if Netflix thinks this is the way to proceed all the time? 

Mining for trauma isn’t always the answer

Netflix shouldn’t take the wrong lessons from Baby Reindeer

Baby Reindeer should rightly be revered for what it has achieved — which is the tough-to-find television that sticks with viewers for life. But it shouldn’t be heralded as a benchmark for trauma mining just to get a binge-able series. In reality, Gadd hasn’t revealed many details about his own stalking case, and he shouldn’t have to. The same can be applied to art itself — in order to have a thrilling and dramatic hit on a global streaming platform, you don’t need to bear your soul to all. 

Speaking to Netflix in a behind-the-scenes clip, Gadd implied some hesitancy at the world “knowing his issues” when he was approached to make the series, and it’s easy to see why. Not only is his safety and well-being potentially at risk, but Gadd is also opening himself up to interpretation — and criticism — from everyone with a mouth and social media account. It’s a courageous leap, and while we certainly need this authentic representation, it would be naive to assume there couldn’t be some kind of ramifications. 

On top of this, it’s possibly a surprise that Netflix agreed to pick up a strictly limited series in the first place. In a world where all content needs to be renewable, a second season typically needs to be teased, even if executives often decide against following through with new episodes. Combining this with its subject matter, it’s easy to see Baby Reindeer as a throwaway tragedy when it comes down to business. 

The worst thing Netflix can do from here is apply the “Well it worked for Baby Reindeer, so surely it will work for everything” school of thought to its content going forward. Setting the precedent that we need to give everything over to entertainment — from both viewers and creators alike — is a dangerous precedent to set, destroying the nuance that comes with commissioning a variety of fictional stories.

 Find even more true crime shows and documentaries to stream, alongside amazing movies to catch on Netflix this month. If that’s not enough, find out what the streaming platform has in store for K-drama.

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