Baby Reindeer

Baby Reindeer
Baby Reindeer
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Beware: despite its name, Baby Reindeer is not a comic work.

Richard Gadd, who wrote and stars in it, explores the life of Donny; a struggling comedian living in London and working hard to make it big on Netflix’s new seven-part series.

What he got instead was Martha (Jessica Gunning): a mentally unwell woman who comes into his Camden pub some day and whom he feels sorry for. He does not pay for her glass of Coke; she admits that she cannot buy herself coffee therefore he ends up buying one for her.

I am sure he regrets that because Martha starts turning up at the pub every day, sending thousands of emails to his inbox and making thinly veiled sexual jokes about how much she wants him – and how much, she thinks, he wants her.

Sooner than later though, Donny finds himself in hell as he tries to keep away from any contact with Martha while knowing that having her around is the only interesting thing about his life.

Martha eventually makes herself comfortable everywhere within Donny’s world. In ‘Baby Reindeer,’ Gunning has an indescribable effect as Martha. At times pitiful while others menacingly deranged – constantly balancing between two edges of insanity like a knife-edge

She will say sorry to Donny one moment for what she did – “I’m sorry reindeer,” her pet name for him – but show up at his comedy gig next time screaming at him for making fun of her or calling the police to remove him from their bed.

The most shocking thing is that much of Baby Reindeer (we do not know how much) is apparently true: a large part of Gadd’s own experiences dealing with stalking were turned into a successful Edinburgh Fringe play called Baby Reindeer which later became this TV series. Therefore, messages from the actual ‘Martha’ are scattered throughout the performance in a frenzied manner that gives a distinctly meta feel to the whole series.

As such, Gadd portrays Donny without mercy – he plays the character (a version of himself) anyway; this is really brave or stupid. Since his life has become stagnant, he has become an unbearable coward who still depends on his ex-girlfriend’s mother for shelter because she doesn’t demand any rent from him. His hangdog face and sad eyes are perfect vehicles for portraying the self-loathing he clearly feels.

Donny had moved to London hoping to make it in comedy but there is little fun here: indeed, most of his stand-up consists of him wearing tartan all the way as he makes lame jokes before an audience that just stares at him silently.

Instead of comedy itself, one gets a mixture of abuse, mental illness and people hurting each other. As Martha and Donny’s relationship turns poisonous though, we get to see more about them as their backstories are uncovered.

Unfortunately, that also includes Donny’s girlfriend Teri (Mexican actress Nava Mau providing loads of class), who is so badly treated by him that I almost expected her not to bother getting involved at all and dump Donny on the spot. And then there is Martha.

The difficult music that is shot throughout each frame and increases its pitch in all episodes builds a nervous, uneasy mood. But its worth watching is not in doubt, as Gadd has certainly done something interesting with Baby Reindeer.

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