Part-descent into madness, part crime-thriller, Benedict Cumberbatch's monster puppet drama is a curious beast.

New six part psychological thriller Eric is a curious beast, literally.

For starters it’s a British production populated by American characters in New York City in the 1980s.

It’s partly a descent into madness, partly a crime thriller, and partly an essay on period racism and homophobia.

It’s a bigfoot in each camp which is sometimes engrossing, and other times overshooting its ambitions, but always engaging.

Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Vincent, a cantankerous, workaholic puppeteer employed on “Good Day Sunshine”, a dead ringer equivalent for Sesame Street. He’s cranky at staff meetings, never happy with new ideas, cutbacks and network demands.

He is also a helicopter parent to shy, 9 year old son Edgar (Ivan Morris Howe) who frequently loses himself in drawings and dreams of his own monster puppet, a towering fluffy beast he calls Eric.

Mother and wife Cassie (Gaby Hoffmann) often finds herself on the end of blazing domestic rows with Vincent, which feels imposed rather than justified in storylines. Because it is in the midst of their latest feud that an overlooked Edgar decides to walk to school alone one morning.

But when he never makes it to school, panic sets in and police are called. Enter hunky black Detective Mike Ledroit (McKinley Belcher III) who is tasked with heading up an investigation.

After quizzing a distressed Cassie and shellshocked Vincent, Mike has his own suspicions about about a local nightclub near Edgar’s home. That’s despite the cliche directions from his police boss to stop chasing pointless leads, as well as workplace pressure to get himself a wife soon. Yes really. But Mike has his own home life, even if he keeps things private.

The series sets up a range of suspects who could be linked to Edgar’s disappearance, and even introduces something of an affair for distraught Cassie.

But the series takes a wild detour when Vincent gets an idea to bring monster Eric to television, in the hope his son might see it and -I presume- realise Dad is not so bad after all.

Eric becomes tangible, at least to us as viewers, sharing the screen in all his towering, horned blue monsteria. Voiced by Cumberbatch himself, this alter-ego of our hero follows him around like a shadow, calling him out, misbehaving, and generally guaranteeing Vincent slowly loses his grip on reality.

The character essay stuff is intriguing, thanks to Cumberbatch’s talents, even though Vincent isn’t particularly likeable. More likeable is the understated performance of McKinley Belcher III as a detective committed to a case in a time of racism, homophobia and stereotyped police bosses.

The two parts don’t always go together and some scenes feel contrived. What could have been a standout from writer Abi Morgan (The Hour, The Iron Lady, Shame, Suffragette) falls a little short.

But the crowded story moves along at an entertaining pace, if you can equate the fantasy elements with the missing child plot.

Eric screens May 29 on Netflix.

Leave a Reply