Title: Dopesick Creator: Danny Strong Stars: Michael Keaton, Peter Sarsgaard, Michael Stuhlbarg
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“I can’t believe how many of them are dead now.”Michael Keaton’s eyes say everything when his character, Dr. Samuel Finnix, is asked how many of his patients got addicted to the drug OxyCotin. It is at this moment we get to understand what kind of series Dopesick is. In its portrayal of pain, Dopesick won’t pull any punches.
Based on the book Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors and the Drug Companythat Addicted America by Beth Macy, Dopesick tells the story of the US opioid addiction epidemic.
At first impression, characters come across as one-dimensional, which is almost to be expected. There are many stories and tragedies to be told in a limited amount of time, and at first glance, Dopesick almost felt superficial. The series also seems to struggle to balance the story of the drug’s development and its impact on society. It is a tricky balance to walk, and in that first episode, I was unsure if the series would be able to walk it at all.
Thankfully, by the second episode, this impression changes, and I find myself caring about the characters and their stories. Their lives and their fates in the struggle against the growing addiction crisis are believable and moving. There is almost a lived-in feeling to it. It is all based on real people wearing their own lives as worn sweaters with holes and wrinkles of pain.
“Realness” is also tackled well in how Dopesick talks about addiction. The characters do not get addicted because they are weak or chasing a high. The addiction results from the need for relief from pain that stopped them from working and living their lives. “OxyCotin is safe,” the doctors all said, “less than 1% become addicted.”
This feels like real people. This feels like real stories.
Sure, Dopesick has been tweaked, dramatized and packaged to fit the streaming format. But if you peel back the surface layers of Hollywood, you will find many fates that echo what we see on the screen.
Not unsurprisingly, Michael Keaton as Dr. Samuel Finnix is the star here. Dr. Finnix stands in for all the other doctors at the frontline of the real Oxycotin epidemic. As a doctor who has served his local community for decades, he truly respects and cares for his patients.
I also got to give Disney credit where credit is due. This is the first time I’ve seen a gay couple on the forefront of the channel. I am delighted to see these characters grow in episodes two and three, breaking through the thin tissue stereotypes they were in episode one. Overall, the series is an excellent example of representation done well. More of this, please.
“Don’t worry, we will figure this out; it is an excellent drug.” is the reply given by Richard Sackler (Played by Michael Sthulbarg). Then in the very next scene, Icarus is referenced as an example of hubris leading to flying too close to the sun and coming crashing down to earth as his wax wings melted. It is an excellent example of foreshadowing. It is also needed – we know how this story ends, both from the series skipping back and forth in time, from the first inception of the drug to the criminal investigation of Purdue Pharma.
So what does Purdue Pharma do? They claim it is the most fantastic drug in human history- so great that they need to invent a new sickness, “breakthrough pain.” All it takes is for the doctors to double the dose to combat it. This is told with great vigor to the pharmacy sales staff – and with double doses, increased sales, increased profits, so will their bonuses grow. Then it all starts to spiral downwards, profits go up, hand in hand with increased addiction, crime and broken lives.
I know how the story went – still, Dopesick has drawn me in; I want to see how it goes.
Best of all, Dopesick makes me angry. Angry at the greed, the corruption.
We need a better world, and knowing stories like this is essential in building that world
Dopesick is available on the Hulu streaming platform in the US, and on Disney+ in Europe. This review of Dopesick is based on the first three episodes.