Created By: Ryan Murphy, Ian Brennan
Starring: Peter Evans, Niecy Nash, Richard Jenkins, Molly Ringwald
Plot Summary: One of America’s most notorious serial killers, largely told from the point of view of Jeffrey Dahmer’s victims, and dives deeply into the police incompetence and apathy that allowed the Wisconsin native to go on a multiyear killing spree. The series dramatizes at least 10 instances where Dahmer was almost apprehended but ultimately let go. The series also is expected to touch on, Dahmer, a clean-cut, good-looking guy, was repeatedly given a free pass by cops as well as by judges who were lenient when he had been charged with petty crimes.
Many documentaries and books have been produced about the frightening enigma that was Jeffery Dahmer. Many of these pieces of media have been told from different perspectives, all trying to put together the shattered pieces to form a fractured picture of a demented man. Some media, such as the incredibly brilliant graphic novel My Friend Dahmer, gives a thoughtful and haunting glimpse into a young serial killer in the making and how so many people ignored the red flags. This show attempts to do the same both on an intimate scale, but also, on a societal level.
When it was announced that Ryan Murphy would be tackling the famous, or rather infamous, cannibal from Wisconsin, I was pretty interested as a true crime buff, but I was skeptical of how Murphy would handle the subject matter. Thankfully, I think that he and co-creator Ian Brennan find a way to tackle Dahmer’s story in a way that is less exploitation and more exploration. It explores how this terrible perfect storm not only created Dahmer, but because of problems on a systemic level allowed him to thrive as he committed his heinous crimes.
While the show focuses on Jeffery in every aspect of his life from childhood up until his demise, it thankfully never remotely glamorizes his crimes. Nor does it really paint him as some kind of tragic and misunderstood figure. While it can possibly be said that Dahmer was in a way victim, once he crosses the threshold with his first victim in 1978, he never gets an ounce of the show’s sympathy or compassion. Wisely, the show partially re-frames the narrative from the perspective of Glenda Cleveland, played to Emmy-worthy perfection by Niecy Nash. Cleveland was a real-life neighbor of Dahmer’s and, as the show depicts, she did what she could to get police to investigate him during his killing spree. The show highlights how systemic racism allowed Jeffery to claim many Black and Brown men in his own neighborhood, two of which were as young as 14. An entire episode is spent getting to know one of his victims which really brings home how these were real people whose lives were snuffed out way too soon.
Dahmer never gets into the gory details either, which I think is the respectful way to go. In fact, the most extreme the violence goes is actually when Dahmer himself gets killed in prison. If there is one scene that I feel maybe went into a tacky place, it’s when Dahmer fixes Glenda a sandwich, then weirdly pressures her to eat it. What is meant as a creepy and tension-filled scene comes off comical. Otherwise, the show flows very well over ten episodes. Unlike some shows that feel like they shouldn’t be 10 plus hours, Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story is lean story telling leaving no fat on the bone. By the end, you really feel the weight and impact of the ghastly deeds. This is further hit home by a final black screen with pictures and dates of each of Dahmer’s victims.
We have to talk about how amazing Evan Peters is, and the actor completely embodies the titular psychopath. Peters is Dahmer with every frightening fiber of his being, and at times you forget it is only an actor and not the real thing. Niecy Nash is able to bring a powerhouse performance as Glenda and, much like Peters, is awards worthy in every sense. Not only does her character serve a vital piece of the story, but Nash brings things home on a very important level. Richard Jenkins is Dahmer’s father Lionel and, much like Peters, totally commits to the role in a way that feels grounded and believable. Lionel is a really interesting character, and I think it was smart casing. The supporting cast is great with 80’s mainstay Molly Ringwald as Lionel’s second wife, Shari.
After watching Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, one wants to take a shower and maybe just sit in reflective silence for a while. With excellent writing, a sublime cast and clearly a healthy budget for production design, this ranks among the best serial killer docu-dramas ever made.
Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story is currently available to stream on Netflix.
With excellent writing, a sublime cast and clearly a healthy budget for production design, this ranks among the best serial killer docu-dramas ever made.
Big film nerd and TCM Obsessed. Author of The Ultimate Guide to Strange Cinema from Schiffer Publishing. Resume includes: AMC’s The Bite, Scream Magazine etc. Love all kinds of movies and television and have interviewed a wide range of actors, writers, producers and directors. I currently am a regular co-host on the podcast The Humanoids from the Deep Dive and have a second book in the works from Bear Manor.