Review: Evening Standard, 10th April 2024

A warning before we start: despite the cute-sounding title, Baby Reindeer is not for the faint hearted. Written by and starring Richard Gadd, this new Netflix seven-parter tells the story of Donny, a struggling comedian living in London trying to make it big.

What he gets instead is Martha (Jessica Gunning): a mentally unwell woman who shows up at his Camden pub one day and upon whom he takes pity. He waives the cost of her pint of Coke; he takes her for a coffee when she admits she can’t pay for one herself.

Bet he wishes he hadn’t. Because soon Martha is turning up at the pub every day, bombarding his inbox with thousands of emails and making thinly veiled sexual jokes about how much she wants him – and how much, she thinks, he wants her.

Soon, Donny’s life descends into a unique sort of hell, as he attempts to keep his distance from Martha while, at the same time, wrestling with the fact that her presence in his life is the most interesting thing about it.

Martha proceeds to inveigle herself into every element of Donny’s life. Crucially for the show, Gunning is magnetic as Martha. Constantly teetering on the edge of insanity, she treads the knife-edge between pitiable and menacing.

One moment, she’s apologising to Donny for her behaviour – “I’m sorry, reindeer,” she tells him (baby reindeer being her pet name for him) – the next, she’s turning up at his comedy gig and screaming at him for making fun of her.

The most shocking part is that a lot of it is true: much of Baby Reindeer (we’re not told how much) is based on Gadd’s own experiences with a stalker, which ultimately ended up being turned into a hit Edinburgh Fringe play of the same name and now this series. Accordingly, messages from the real ‘Martha’ litter the show like frantic punctuation, adding the whole series a distinctly meta element.

Considering this, Gadd is bravely (or foolishly) unsparing in his depiction of Donny (aka a version of himself), whom he actually plays. A rampant coward whose life has stagnated, he still lives with his ex-girlfriend’s mother because she doesn’t charge him rent; his hangdog face and sad eyes are perfect vehicles for portraying the self-loathing he clearly feels.

Donny moved to London in search of a comedy breakthrough, but there are precious few laughs here: indeed, most of his stand-up involves him dressed all in tartan and cracking feeble jokes to an agonisingly silent crowd.

What we get instead of actual comedy is a swirling miasma of abuse, mental illness and people doing terrible things to each other. Martha and Donny’s toxic relationship is fascinating to watch in the same way that a car crash is, spiralling out to infect everything around it even as the show digs deeper into their backstories.

That, sadly, includes Donny’s love interest Teri (Mexican actress Nava Mau, bringing lashings of classiness), whom he treats so egregiously that I half expected (and wanted) her to save herself the bother of getting involved and dump Donny on the spot. And that’s before Martha gets involved.

All this combines to create an uneasy, tense atmosphere, compounded by the jittery string music that permeates almost every frame, and which ratchets even higher with every episode. Gadd has certainly done something fascinating with Baby Reindeer, however much of a tough watch it may be.

Link to original article here: