A New Mystery Series Has Some Fun with True Crime Obsessions

It arrived without much fanfare, another offbeat “true crime” mystery set against the stormy clouds of an eerie small town. But Bodkin, the new Netflix series set in Ireland, has something deeper going on.

Both a revelation and a lighthearted indignation, Bodkin has something to say about conspiracy theorists, disinformation rabbit holes, the people making a living out of the grotesque and macabre, and the rubberneckers addicted to their content.

Produced by Barack and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground production company, the seven-part series is set against a fictional idyllic coastal of Bodkin, and across seven episodes, it skips the explosive scenes and jaw-dropping twists for a more grounded murder mystery that’s tinged with dark comedy.

So fix yourself a pint of Guinness, and read about its backstory and reception — and see whether Bodkin is for you, and if it’s poised to become a (fingers crossed) a bonafide sleeper hit.

c. Netflix
What’s it about

A one-hit-wonder true crime podcaster, Gilbert (Will Forte) teams up with eager-to-please researcher Emmy (Robyn Cara) and disgraced investigative journalist Dove (Siobhán Cullen) to descend on the picturesque town of Bodkin – all with the intent  to investigate the suspicious disappearance of three people during the Samhain festival – Ireland’s Festival of the Dead – more than two decades ago. As the team begins to dig up the past, they uncover a hidden secret that is darker and much more consequential than any of them had imagined.

Names you might know

Saturday Night Live alum and Emmy nominee Will Forte is compelling as Gilbert, the leader of the motley crew. Robyn Cara (Trying) is delightful as the wide-eyed researcher Emmy while Siobhán Cullen (Obituary) delivers a commanding performance as Dove, a gutsy no-nonsense ace reporter/detective who begrudgingly joins the team to lay low for a while and somehow redeem herself from a high-profile mishap. Created by Jez Scharf (The UnDream), the show is a rare scripted comedy executive produced by former first couple Barack and Michelle Obama.

What’s the backstory?
c. Netflix

The origin story of Bodkin is something personal, according to creator Jez Scharf.  He tells Netflix that the concept of the series is a response to his own fascination with true crime podcasts and documentaries. “At the time, I was thinking a lot about the morality of true crime,” he reveals. “They’re often very tragic stories, but are parceled up into neat episodes with a good hook at the end.”

Yet as a fan of real-life crime stories, he was also wondering about their production.  “Whenever I listen to a true crime podcast, I always think about what it must be like to be that researcher on the ground, in that town, knocking on doors, trying to get people to open up about their most traumatic and difficult experiences, and how absurd that might feel.”

Despite the focus on true crime, “It’s a fake town, it’s a fake place. It’s all fake people. The mystery itself, we worked very hard to find something that is in no way adjacent to a real true crime story. The fictionality of it was very deliberate.”

That being said, the show was partially filmed in West Cork, the Irish coastal district that was used as the inspiration and title of a popular 2018 podcast, wherein hosts Sam Bungey and Jennifer Forde took a deep dive into the 1996 Sophie Toscan du Plantier murder case, which shook the entire country of Ireland. And just like the characters in Bodkin, the West Cork podcasters also visited the titular town to investigate the case.

Whether it’s purely coincidental or intentional is immaterial, as the creators guarantee that Bodkin would be an unconventional and less straightforward series. “Actually, of all the true crime podcasts, the one that was most inspiring to us was S-Town” – the Serial true crime series about a rumor in a small Alabama town.  Says Scharf: “That’s one where you come in thinking it’s going to be about a murder, but then the story just spins out in ways that you don’t expect. That was the kind of journey that we were trying to map ourselves against — that the truth is always kind of unexpected.”

What it’s really about
c. Netflix

Lurking underneath the picturesque scenery, intriguing mystery, and introspective humor are serious questions about society’s unhealthy obsession with tragic stories and conspiracy theories, and the ways that these human frailties are exploited for personal and financial gain.

As digital ecosystems become increasingly saturated with fake, conspiratorial news, AI driven propaganda, and outlandish theories, discerning fact from fiction becomes an increasingly daunting undertaking. The message of Bodkin seems to be: the truth is out there somewhere and every responsible citizen must find it and share it with the rest of the world – regardless of the consequence.

What critics are saying

The show has received mostly favorable reviews as of writing. The British and Irish critics can usually be counted on to share an honest opinion. Lucy Mangan of The Guardian describes it, “There is enough credibility to the mystery, enough jokes to keep it from becoming a straight thriller (including small touches like a singalong starting to Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow at a wake), and enough oddity to keep things interesting without unbalancing the whole.”

“It’s clever, funny and properly gripping stuff,” Pat Stacey of the Irish Independent declares. “A deliciously offbeat concoction of the (intentionally) silly and the sinister that delights in setting up more shamrock-laden clichés than you can shake a shillelagh at and then gleefully shredding them.”

The takeaway

A muted yet engrossing comedy thriller that takes some time to settle into its idiosyncratic rhythm, once Bodkin finds its footing, it reels you in with its unique blend of suspense, drama, and humor. Though it utilizes sarcasm and moments of levity to drive the story forward, Bodkin is not necessarily a comedy but rather an allegory of humanity’s unending quest for truth and justice.

Where to stream Bodkin:   Netflix
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