Aidan Smith's TV week: A Friend of the Family (Peacock), Maxine (Channel 5), The Watcher (Netflix)

This fascination for real crime stories is not new. Me and the other paper delivery boys, while waiting in the newsagent’s for our bundles, would birl a magazine carousel at speed, challenging each other to count up all the conical bras on the racy covers of True Detective and the rival titles.
Evan Peters as Jeffrey DahmerEvan Peters as Jeffrey Dahmer
Evan Peters as Jeffrey Dahmer

But you folks are really going for it now, are you not? No 1 in the Netflix chart: Dahmer - Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story. No 2: Conversations With a Killer: The Jeffrey Dahmer Tapes. Expect The Watcher, released on the streaming service two days ago, to challenge the Dahmer duopoly once it becomes apparent the dream-home stalker did exist.

What a clunky title that is on the Dahmer. Actually, both Dahmers, but I mean the one in top spot, which is a drama (the other being a documentary). Presumably the subject is named twice so we won’t forget him. As if. But here’s me prevaricating over titles and wasting a few more words before I have to get down to the onerous task of discussing the show.

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I can’t even waste some more words describing Dahmer’s apartment because here - among the blood-soaked furnishings, the blood on the kitchen surface next to the electric drill … and what the hell is that in the bottom of the fridge? - is where the horror happens.

Jemma Carlton as Maxine Carr.Jemma Carlton as Maxine Carr.
Jemma Carlton as Maxine Carr.

Dahmer, the “Milwaukee Monster”, was the serial killer who murdered, and occasionally ate, 17 victims between 1978 and 1991. The series is the work of Ryan Murphy and the width of the solar system away from his early hit Glee.

In look and feel it might remind you of The Killing of Gianni Versace, also by Murphy - at least until Dahmer revs up that drill. Murphy is US TV’s preeminent television auteur with a macabre fascination for vanity, ego, power, lust and other even more flabby and foul-smelling recesses of the American condition. This combo has resulted in shows of hypnotic gruesomeness such as his studies of Bill Clinton, O.J. Simpson and that satyromaniac plastic surgeon in Nip/Tuck. How to top them? Murphy was always going to be Dahmed if he did and Dahmed if he didn’t with this.

The true crime genre is playing everywhere just now. On the Peacock streaming service available via Sky and Now, there’s A Friend of the Family and you just know that title is going to be a misnomer.

Early in Monster, KC and the Sunshine Band’s “Please Don’t Go” plays. Such a sweet, plaintive song, but unfortunately at this moment Dahmer is dry-humping a mannequin he’s stolen from a department store. In A Friend … the soundtrack includes the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Do You Believe in Magic?” and Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle” and it’s great to hear these tracks again, but once more they sugar what we’re watching, which in 1975 is the new occupant of the house near to some good, God-fearing folks insinuating himself into the family’s lives in a quite sinister way.

At least no one dies here in Pocatello, Idaho. Yes, but Jan Broberg, the eldest daughter, is kidnapped by Bob Berchtold. He returns her, claiming there had been an alien abduction, only isn’t excommunicated by her parents and does it again. Oh, and another thing: Jan, all grown up, introduces the drama and gives it her blessing. If you don’t know this story, having appeared in a few different forms already, it’s truly astonishing.

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There are two Bobs but you wouldn’t mix them up. Jan’s father is balding and primly manages a florist’s shop while Berchtold (Jack Lacy) is macho and rides horses, the other Bob being allergic to them. Both the Broberg parents - played by Colin Hanks and Anna Paquin - fall under his spell, mistaking a sinister smirk for charm. But I recognise that sinister smirk: Lacy used it to great effect in The White Lotus and as the preening priggish, honeymooner stood out among those monied grotesques.

What must it be like for an actor to play a sexual predator, and to be reminded of the fact, possibly for the rest of the career? Just another job? In Lacy’s case, perhaps, but surely Dahmer will not be that for Evan Peters, nor Ian Huntley for Scott Reid.

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Maxine (Channel 5) recounts the Soham murders, Huntley the school caretaker who killed ten-year-olds Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in 2002. In Britain, we’re just as keen on dredging up these awful stories but the fact these are our horrors makes them even harder to stomach. There’s some interesting stuff about journalism - quietly heroic local reporter, big shot from the nationals who’d probably mow down her own granny to get to a story first - which is probably only of interest to journalists. Mercifully there’s little focus on the murders, which leaves a lot of time spent with Huntley and his girlfriend Maxine Carr (Jemma Carlton). Any at all is too much.

For The Watcher we’re back in America. It’s 2014 and when a well-heeled couple (Naomi Watts and Bobby Cannivale) move with their kids into a New Jersey suburb they couldn’t be happier. But before long, when strange letters start arriving, they couldn’t be more creeped out. It’s Ryan Murphy again, drawing from real, chilling life. How does the man sleep? What scares him? I’d like to know.

Right now, though, I need a shower. And, like the Dahmer cops, a “de-louse”. Then something nice to watch. But not The One Show.



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