The corporate scandal genre has a burgeoning record in drama (Dark Water, Promised Land, The Insider, etc.) and documentary (Inside Job, Icarus, WeWork, pretty much the whole back catalogues of Alex Gibney and Michael Moore). Now the TV miniseries is joining the righteous party. And this story is a true shocker, about a still unfolding opioid crisis which has claimed many thousands of US lives and livelihoods. All since the launch of OxyContin in the 1980s by the Sackler Family’s Purdue Pharma. The then deputy attorney general James Comey, signalling both government complicity and the quality of his subsequent employer the Trump administration, tells everyone to back off “the chicken guy”, mistaking them for Perdue Farms.
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Michael Stuhlbarg brings a smoky villainy to pharma titan Richard Sackler, dispatching the likes of underling Billy (Will Poulter) to charm local doctors and make sales. But when one of them, played with backcountry smarts by Michael Keaton, sees the after-effects on members of his community, including young queer miner Betsy (Kaitlyn Dever), a push-back commences which enjoins those inside the state brave enough to contest the pliable orthodoxy that OxyContin is a win-win.
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Ed Cumming in the Independent calls the series “a remarkable achievement, which clearly lays out the facts of the slow-burning tragedy, with lots of helpful date reminders, without losing track of the human stories behind it… Dopesick understands that the opioid scandal was about compassion, and the ways in which it was twisted by malign corporate interests, with the help of powerful chemicals.” Both the Evening Standard and Guardian are impressed, but think the number of storylines overwhelms the strength of the core subject matter. But The New Yorker’s Rachel Syme applauds the “valiant effort in the face of so much material… to wrangle the malignant epic (an adaptation of Beth Macy’s best-selling exposé) into eight compact episodes.”
First shown November 2021.