Review: ‘Eric’

Benedict Cumberbatch Is a Miserable Puppeteer Who Will Do Anything To Save His Son… Even Lose His Sanity

For the most part, we see Benedict Cumberbatch as a hero in some form or fashion. Sure, he was Kahn in Star Trek Into Darkness (we don’t talk about that movie) or Smaug in The Hobbit films, but often he’s on the side of angels. Whether he’s everyone’s favorite detective not named Batman in the BBC show Sherlock, or as Dr. Strange in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he’s been a great leading man who always does the right thing. However, in Netflix’s latest limited series Eric, we get to see a new side of him… a very dark side.

Eric is set in the 1980s in New York City, Vincent (Cumberbatch) is a puppeteer for a children’s television show called “Good Day Sunshine” (obviously because Netflix couldn’t get the licensing for Sesame Street’s likeness) and everything seems to be going well for him. He’s got the top children’s show, a beautiful wife, and an adoring kid. However, when the camera turns off, he’s an emotionally abusive alcoholic who pretty much is destroying everything around him.

Vincent is getting pressure to adapt Good Day Sunshine (like having a new puppet with a boom box… it is the 80s after all) and he’s not only clashing with the executives, but also his fellow creatives including his partner Lennie (Dan Fogler). His son Edgar (Ivan Howe) is his biggest fan and is equally talented in art. Edgar even has been drawing a new puppet he wants his dad to create called “Eric,” (hence the title of the show) a large monster that has been living underground and finally comes to the surface to be with the other puppets.

After a big no-hold-barred fight with his wife Cassie (Gaby Hoffman), the next day he’s too unbothered to take his son Edgar to school so Edgar walks to school. The only problem is that Edgar never made it to school. He’s so preoccupied with his show that it’s no big deal, but then everything hits the fan when he doesn’t return home. Now it’s a case of a missing child, who’s all on his own in New York City when crime was at an all-time high. Is Edgar lost? Did he run away? Was he kidnapped? The situation is a parent’s worst nightmare, and this was before cell phones, so it’s a race against the clock to try and get Edgar back.

Because of his celebrity status, and the fact that Vincent’s father (John Doman) is a Trump-eque real estate developer with oodles of money and influence, the police are eager to try and save Edgar. Assigned to the case is Detective Michael Ledroit (McKinley Belcher III) from Missing Persons, who is also wrestling his own demons. Ledroit is a closeted gay man in New York City during the 1980s, when the country was not as collectively enlightened as they are today, especially during the AIDS crisis. Ledroit is also wrestling with a missing person’s case from a year ago where another child went missing, only this child is black, and collectively no one cares because at this point Black Lives didn’t matter. Despite the NYPD brass telling Ledroit to focus on Edgar and not focus on the missing black teen (now why would they do that?), Ledroit decides to walk and chew gum at the same time, and even thinks the two cases are connected.

Edgar’s disappearance intensifies not only the breakdown of Vincent and Cassie’s marriage, but also Vincent’s sanity. Edgar goes to work like nothing’s happened, but he’s becoming more chaotic at work, drinking on the job, and alienating his fellow staff. As Eric progresses, Vincent starts to hallucinate a real-life manifestation of the giant puppet. He decides that his son would see the puppet on TV and want to come home, and works against his staff’s wishes to bring the puppet to the show, at also starts having full-blown conversations with a hallucination Eric who only he can see since Eric’s a figment of his imagination. In addition to creating the puppet for the show, Vincent teams up with his Eric hallucination to go out and find his son.

While the focus of Eric is on Vincent, his madness, and his search for his son, the show also attempts to address the 1980s regarding how society treated gay people and how they treated the homeless. Ledroit (who is secretly caring for his partner who is dying of AIDS) is drawn to Club Lux as the previous missing kid went missing and may have been involved in a sex-trafficking ring that engaged in young boys. The club owner who Ledroit probably dated in the past insists that his club only deals in over 18 prostitution, but there’s more than meets the eye. There are some corrupt cops connected to the club and the missing boy as well. Eric also addresses the homeless crisis during the time as the deputy mayor promises to “clean up the city” to “help” the homeless, but really is just to tear down buildings for gentrification purposes.

Throughout the six episodes of Eric, we move through different suspects from the old man in the building (Clark Peters) who may or may not be a child molester, to a homeless young man, to Vincent himself in addition to the other plot points (police corruption, anti-LGBTQ sentiment, racism, and homelessness), Eric holds well when it focuses on Vincent as his destructive behavior and madness continue. Cumberbatch plays so against type as a despicable person, it’s hard to have empathy for him in some moments. While his poor wife is handing out flyers at the subway, he’s getting drunk and high at nightclubs and berating his coworkers. Watching him act off against a giant puppet that looks like it belongs in Monsters Inc. shows how well he can flex his acting muscles. Gaby Hoffmann also does great, especially when she and Cumberbatch are having shouting matches. However, the real MVP of Eric is McKinley Belcher III as Detective Ledroit. As a black closeted detective trying to solve two deeply personal cases, his character goes through the biggest emotional arc of the series as he is connected to all the events going on throughout the series.

Eric’s biggest problem is that it’s trying to juggle too much. There was a point throughout the six-episode series where I wondered to myself “How is ALL of this going to resolve itself?!?” It was almost too much. While the series does interestingly connect the dots, the show probably would have been better served if it cut one to two plot points. Understandably, it wanted to illustrate all the systemic issues that were in both New York City and the country as a whole, but sometimes less is better. And in the case of Eric, there needed to be more of a focus on Vincent, his wife Cassie, and Edgar. While they were the focal point of the series, the show had a little too many moments where the audience’s attention was being drawn away from them.

For us 80s babies, Erici is an intriguing blast from the past as all the sets capture life in New York City perfectly. Almost every actor involved is giving their A-Game as almost everyone delivers stellar performances. Now that Shōgun isn’t a miniseries anymore, Eric could be an Emmy contender, especially for Cumberbatch and McKinley Belcher III. Despite juggling so many story beats, the show never feels long and will keep you engaged throughout the series as it attempts to tackle some series issues, issues that are still plaguing our society even today.

Eric is currently available on Netflix.