Do we need 10 TV episodes about a serial killer?

Dahmer: Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story offers viewers 10 hours of television featuring a serial killer cannibal and a necrophiliac from Milwaukee. The popularity of this series is staggering and yet another example of the public’s taste for demons and true crime “entertainment.”

This show topped Netflix’s rankings with nearly 200 million hours watched after its premiere on September 21 and the 10-episode limited series became the #1 show on the service in dozens of countries.

It has also been accompanied by controversy, as social media exploded over Netflix’s decision to categorize “Dahmer” as LGBTQ content. This tag is typically used to highlight shows that include LGBTQ characters but present them in a positive light. Netflix removed that label, but there were and continue to be complaints that Netflix chose to stream a show about Dahmer.

Some relatives of the victims have said that the series has re-traumatized them. However, it is being broadcast and millions have seen it and are watching it.

I did, and I will tell you that it makes it difficult and often frustrating to watch, giving us the fullest possible life story of Dahmer, who began killing in 1987 and was finally caught in 1991 after murdering 17 children and mens. .

Evan Peters plays the title role with the ease of a normal boy and a growing threat. He is a creepy guy throughout, from childhood, as the series goes back and forth in time. We see him killing, of course, but also as a teenager who drinks beer in class and fails at one job after another. We see him prowl and kill and cook.

The production values ​​are high and the supporting cast is good. A virtually unrecognizable Molly Ringwald plays Dahmer’s stepmother and Michael Learned is her churchgoing grandmother. Richard Jenkins is compelling and beleaguered as his father, Lionel, a confused and distant but always loyal research chemist. Niecy Nash is pretty splendid, and she’s given a lot of screen time, as Glenda Cleveland, Dahmer’s neighbor during the height of his murder spree, though it should be noted that the filmmakers massage the facts here, as Cleveland didn’t live next door. of Dahmer but in a nearby but separate building.

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With episodes directed and written by multiple people, the entire package is the brainchild of Ian Brennan and Ryan Murphy, the latter a prolific producer who previously gave the world American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versacea shorter series about the 1997 rampage of Andrew Cunanan, who did some of his bloody work on Chicago’s Gold Coast, murdering business owner Lee Miglin.

There is no doubt that millions of people are drawn to dark topics and demons in the hope of explaining them. But there are no answers. We watch, in the same way that many ogle a car accident, having a hard time walking away from the catastrophe. Many seem fascinated by the twisted psychology that drives some people to heinous crimes. Humans have a need to try to understand evil, in this case why Dahmer killed and, even more macabre, kept decapitated heads in his fridge and put bleached skulls in his closet.

The first five episodes are repetitive, going back and forth between a strange childhood and a predatory, booze-soaked, lonely adulthood. The first half of the season struggles to make clear the number of times Dahmer could have been caught or shapeshifted. There are all kinds of red flags, but no one sees them. Life and death continue. More interesting, if that’s the right word, it’s the second half of the series.

The best episode is “Silenced,” which centers on the story of Tony Hughes (Rodney Burford), a deaf black gay man who becomes as close to a real relationship as Dahmer can get. It is a tender but ultimately tragic hour. The series suggests that Dahmer was able to get away with it because he was a white man who preyed primarily on poor black men. Doing so makes the Milwaukee police look like idiots, and if we miss the filmmakers’ insights, Reverend Jesse Jackson (Nigel Gibbs) drives all the way to Milwaukee to beat them up at home.

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The series nicely captures the media frenzy that attended Dahmer’s capture and 1992 trial. It was one of the first to be covered live on television, by CNN and the then-new Court TV. And local stations got in on the act. I chillingly remember WBBM-Ch. 2’s Jay Levine takes viewers “live” into a cell much like the one Dahmer was held in, and shows us a toilet that had recently been used.

Amazingly, if you recall, Dahmer was found guilty, rather than insane, prompting columnist Mike Royko to write, “So I just have one question for the legal profession. If Jeffrey Dahmer wasn’t crazy, who is? I don’t want to live in the same neighborhood.”

Dahmer’s crimes had victims beyond those massacred, relatives and friends who remain alive. I hope you are not attracted to watch this series. The rest of you are on your own. For those millions who have already watched, perhaps you would like to mark your calendars. A new documentary series, Conversations with a Killer: The Jeffrey Dahmer Tapes, begins streaming today on Netflix on October 7.

—Rick Rogan, Chicago Tribune [email protected]

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