Painkiller: Did we really need to do some entertainment on the opioid crisis?

Broadcast on Netflix, the series Painkillerwhich takes up the biographical plot of the series dopesick in recounting the genesis of America’s opioid epidemic, opens on a promising note. We see a moving preamble featuring the mother of a real victim of OxyContin, a breakthrough painkiller that the series claims was deliberately formulated to be as addictive as possible.

In this one-minute opener, she offers a familiar disclaimer: the series that follows is based on real events, but some elements have been fictionalized for artistic license and the like. She holds a photo of her son in her hands, just below her heart, and her voice breaks: “What hasn’t been romanticized is that my son, at the age of 15, s was prescribed OxyContin,” she explains, “and at the age of 32 died, all alone, in the freezing cold of a gas station parking lot.”

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The story that Painkiller told next is a story that would infuriate anyone but an opulent Big Pharma executive. It contains the most malignant manifestations of capitalist greed, lives lost because of a pharmaceutical market that was not designed for the well-being of people but to sell as many drugs as possible to these people. It turns out that the Oxy economy was basically a legalized heroin ring, decorated with FDA approval. As the Walter White of this sinister syndicate, former Ferris Bueller Matthew Broderick plays OxyContin mogul Richard Sackler as an amoral monster who views the humanity of Oxy patients as having no value. ‘importance. They’re just pockets of intravenous cash.

So you should feel something watching this terrible tragedy unfold from so many angles. Fury, sadness, fear but also amazement, naive as it is, that so many people could die of addiction to a drug ostensibly regulated by government agencies. Except that Painkillerbeyond those prologues that become a motif throughout the series, with various real-world individuals speaking on camera about the devastating personal impact of the crisis, isn’t as focused on human history as it is. should be.

A large part of the series, from the point of view of style and structure, evokes The Big Short, the Adam McKay meta-movie that caused a stir by chronicling a similar crisis in American capitalism, the financial crash of 2008 and the millions who were left homeless as a result of that crisis. There are a lot of convoluted details about financial and other instruments, and McKay tries to explain them using unconventional pop cinema techniques. Most memorable are the cameos that break the fourth wall that the film employs: Selena Gomez tries to teach us what a “synthetic CDO” is (which unfortunately I still can’t understand), Anthony Bourdain uses the analogy of cheffing to explain normal “CDOs”. They’re memorable post-modern inflections, with thoughtfully placed cuts and dumps of information delivered with a meta nod.

Painkiller employs a methodology equivalent to that of Adam McKay to give us historical insight into the moral ills of Big Pharma and the rougher scientific details. We’re treated to fourth-wall-breaking dialogue, uses of annoying pop songs, like Iggy Pop’s “Candy” and the Rubix Cubes’ “I Want Candy” (to be sure you got the medicine metaphor right). like candy), and to maximalist montages punctuated by synthwave tracks. There’s a righteous anger here, that’s for sure, but the show also tries to make lighthearted entertainment out of a very human catastrophe.

This is what is missing as the series progresses. Aside from the deeply moving prologues (you watch mothers recount the loss of their children, how could they not be?), the most touching element of the series, in my opinion, is its “study of case” of a patient played by an amazing Taylor Kitsch, who, after a terrible back injury in the garage he owns, begins to absorb Oxy to cope with his daily life. Its dosage is just insufficient for it to be lacking every twelve hours, before being able to take the next one. You know exactly what awaits you with its addictive spiral (we’ve all seen Beautiful Boy, Requiem for a dreamOr The Cat on a Hot Roof) but Kitsch interprets it with touching credibility. It’s just a shame that we only get fleeting glimpses of the personal tragedy unfolding.

The 6 episodes of Painkiller can be seen now on Netflix.

Originally published on British GQ

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