Nominated for five Emmys, Showtime’s amazing limited series Patrick Melrose digs unsparingly into an uncomfortable narrative. It’s all the more amazing for how far it dares go.
“I was thinking how life is just the history of things we pay attention to. The rest is just packaging.” — Patrick Melrose (Benedict Cumberbatch)
Showtime’s Patrick Melrose isn’t your standard Benedict Cumberbatch joint.
Based on the series of British novels by Edward St. Aubyn, the limited series defies definition as an “enjoyable” event. That’s not a slam. It’s incredibly absorbing and entertaining, but it’s more than a patent entertainment. It can be a difficult sit, for sure, because it so efficiently slices into the tortured psyche of its title character, played by Cumberbatch in a career-best performance. Yet, despite its inherent darkness, Patrick Melrose commands attention thanks to its brilliant direction, writing, and performances. Even though it faces stiff competition, Patrick Melrose deserves serious attention as the greatest nominated limited series of the 2018 Emmy season.
It’s easy to see why Cumberbatch brought this event to the small screen. It’s a story he clearly wanted to tell, but it would not have been adequately explored in a 2-hour film. Patrick Melrose explores more than just its titular character’s battered psyche. It makes compelling statements about Britain’s upper class. It explores the deep entanglements of addiction. And it courageously offers a narrative that doesn’t necessarily wrap itself up in the standard ways normally attributed to Hollywood stories about addiction. It’s unpleasant but necessary and unique.
It launches the viewer straight into the tortured world of its title character through a manic episode that makes the filmmaking of Baz Luhrmann seem linear. The first hour shows Patrick dipping into a bevy of illicit pharmaceuticals. High as a kite, he tries to interact with the world around him in blisteringly fast-paced and unsettling sequences. But this hour is completely necessary. You have to understand how incredibly broken this man is before you journey into both his past and future. The past, harrowing and unflinching memories, directly influences his difficult path forward into sobriety. Over its five episode run, Patrick Melrose gives us more insight into this life than an entire season of network television.
Patrick Melrose received Emmy nominations for Outstanding Limited Series, Lead Actor, Direction, Writing, and Casting. Each and every one well deserved. This Emmy season doesn’t necessary provide the slam-dunk winners we saw last year. That doesn’t mean the quality isn’t there. Patrick Melrose fits perfectly in our modern culture because it explores aspects of the #MeToo movement. I suspect that many viewers, like myself, find the material as difficult as it is entirely relatable. For that, it is an unforgettable viewing experience that deserves to win Emmys for both Limited Series and Lead Actor in a Limited Series.
The time is right for such a brave choice.