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Baby Reindeer Series Review: Shocking Yet True 

Richard Gadd as Donny wears a yellow hacket and has reindeer antlers drawn on a window behind him in a still from the Netflix series Baby Reindeer

Richard Gadd’s Baby Reindeer fictionalizes his stalker experience with an unrelenting sensitivity and compassion for those who might relate to his story.

Showrunner: Richard Gadd
Directors: Weronika Tofilska & Josephine Bornebusch
Genre: Drama, Biography
Number of episodes: 7
Global Release: April 11, 2024
Where to watch: Netflix

From the outset, the basic premise of Baby Reindeer seems entirely too bizarre to be true. An aspiring stand-up comedian is being stalked by an overzealous woman with demons of her own clouding her ability to distinguish her idealizations of their relationship from reality. Going into the series, you have some expectations this story is going to be quite strange, yet the series will still manage to have your jaw on the floor by the end of each episode.

However, the wildest part of this visceral viewing experience is learning that the story we are watching play out is actually based on real-life events

Baby Reindeer follows Donny (Richard Gadd), a Scottish bartender who moved to London in order to make it big in the stand-up comedy realm, but despite his efforts, his career has not taken off yet. One fateful day, a woman named Martha (Jessica Gunning) walks into the pub where Donny works, crying. When Donny asks if he can get her something, she says she can’t even afford a cup of tea. Donny, moved by both pity and empathy, offers her a cup of tea on the house. This small act of kindness would ignite a four-year-long stalking case, affecting every corner of Donny’s life from his work to his romantic relationships and even his dynamic with his parents.

Richard Gadd, the showrunner, writer and star of the series, based the story on his own experiences being stalked over the course of four years. The show is an adaptation of Gadd’s 2019 one-man play by the same name. While parts of the story have been altered to protect the identity of all parties involved, in an interview with Forbes Gadd said the emotional aspects of the piece are 100% true.  

Following their first interaction, Martha would return daily and tell tall tales about her life and her career, which at first slightly charmed Donny. He became fascinated by the stories Martha would tell and didn’t mind indulging her fantastical, and clearly false, anecdotes, as she seemed harmless enough. That was until Martha casually asked for Donny’s phone number and, not thinking too much of it, Donny gave it to her. With a channel to now reach Donny outside of the pub, Martha would send Donny thousands of text messages ranging from seemingly random and benign to widely inappropriate, sexual and threatening. Donny quickly began to understand there was no way he would be able to escape Martha as something in her was clearly and deeply amiss. In the midst of dealing with Martha’s incessant streamline of communication and attempts to infiltrate all aspects of his life, Donny’s traumatizing past he has been trying to grapple with begins to catch up with him, leading him to totally and uncontrollably spin out.

Richard Gadd as Donny is behind the bar and Jessica Gunning as Martha points at him on the other side of the counter in the Netflix series Baby Reindeer
Richard Gadd as Donny and Jessica Gunning as Martha in the series Baby Reindeer (Ed Miller/Netflix)

Richard Gadd’s storytelling is bold and unflinching. His ability to face the most traumatic chapters of his life with a desire to portray them not just honestly but empathetically is beyond admirable. He puts himself back into the center of the darkest period of his life and somehow has found a way to use it as a light, a signal to others who may be experiencing similar hardships that things will turn out okay. 

He refuses to paint anyone in his story as solely bad or solely good. The element that makes his series so impactful is the care, sensitivity and grace he gives each character in the story. He is clearly still grappling with these experiences he has had to deal with and his storytelling shows that healing is not linear. A lot of progress can be made and yet the smallest triggers can put you right back at square one. Above all else, it feels like Gadd’s message is to heal at your own pace, talk to the people you love about what you are going through and understand that hurt people hurt people. 

The character of Martha cannot have been an easy one to craft. On the one hand, she is supposed to be the satellite character for the real person who has brought so much hurt into Gadd’s life. Yet, through the portrayal of her character, we see that Gadd refuses to paint her as a one-dimensional person. It seems that Gadd, years later and through the course of his official recount of events, still wants to understand the character of Martha. He still has pity for her and even still feels a responsibility to show her not as a vindictive person but as someone who genuinely needs help. 

The Netflix series does a beautiful job of showing how intricate Donny’s relationship is with Martha. He took pity on her at the start of their relationship, but through her turning up at the pub every day Donny really did get to know her. He even saw something in her that he felt himself, a loneliness and a desire to be seen and maybe even admired. Martha lies about her life as a lawyer in order to try and gain respect from Donny. Donny indulges in Martha’s fascination with him from time to time in order to feel like he’s doing something nice and maybe deep down because he desires the attention she so freely gives him. They are extremely different people, but at the core, they both know what it’s like to be lonely and to be hurt. Donny tries to assuage those feelings by being kind to Martha.

As we see through the progression of the series, Donny lives with a dark and devastating secret that he has been reeling from, long before Martha came into the picture. Martha is able to identify the hurt in Donny from the very beginning of their encounters. Gadd’s depiction of their rapport gives texture, nuance and depth to this relationship that could easily have been written off as a woman obsessing over a man for seemingly no reason.

Baby Reindeer’s intent is to not to be a typical “stalker” series but actually an investigation into the psychological aspect of why someone would become a stalker and the all-encompassing impact of being stalked. Gadd as a writer never attempts to enter the point of view of Martha, which honestly would come across as a distasteful attempt to exploit the mind of someone who really needed professional help. The story focuses only on Donny’s perspective and the wide range of emotions he experiences as he attempts to grapple with his many layers of trauma.

There isn’t a dull or meaningless moment in Baby Reindeer. Stylistically, the Netflix series has a solid identity, from its pacing to its coloring and score that creates a world that feels incredibly distinct and lived-in. To add impact to the show’s storytelling, every single message we see and hear from Martha to Donny is a message that Gadd received from his stalker in real life. The true story holds so many eccentricities that add to this utterly unique world that Gadd has built. 

Jessica Gunning as Martha sits at a bus stop wearing a grey cardigan and black dress and looking sad in the Netflix series Baby Reindeer
Jessica Gunning as Martha in the series Baby Reindeer (Ed Miller/Netflix)

Gunning plays Martha masterfully. She is able to flip from kind and bubbly to violent and threatening at the drop of a hat. Gunning perfectly executes this performance of a deeply troubled woman, leaving us to try and understand her motives alongside Donny. She is so expressive yet withholds the one thing we all want to know: why she’s doing what she’s doing. Gadd doesn’t force an answer that never came in real life through the characterized version of his stalker. He keeps the story true rather than making it pleasantly digestible, even if that means showing the most gruesome aspects of his story plainly. 

Beyond his relationship with Martha, Donny’s character arc is one of the most astonishing I have seen in a television series as of late. He is a man so lost in life who has been dealt some of the most challenging cards one could stomach and yet he still cares to be kind regardless of how unkind life has been to him. As a character, he does not subscribe to the sort of “toxic positivity” many main characters are plighted with, but rather has a deep-rooted desire to try and understand those around him even if that opportunity has not been awarded to him. Through struggles with his sexuality to his potential as a comedian, we see Donny unravel each aspect of his identity and take an honest look at who he is, or rather, who he is pretending to be. While sold as a stalker series, this show goes deep in its analysis of loneliness and identity. 

There isn’t enough praise in the world that can be given to what Gadd has created with Baby Reindeer. The story is told with such remarkable honesty and has a completely unprecedented identity. From Gadd’s acting to his writing to his sole ability to face these tragic events once more, he stands as an artist I am in absolute awe of. On the surface, this Netflix series seems like a crazy and wild stalker story, but in it, you will find a level of honesty, empathy and heart that will stay with you long beyond its finale. 

Baby Reindeer is now available to watch on Netflix.

Baby Reindeer: Trailer (Netflix)
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