Netflix's Limited Series 'Eric' is Too Much Chaos Muppetry

Benedict Cumberbatch as Vincent Anderson as his hallcuniatio nof Eric the Monster in 'Eric'

Benedict Cumberbatch as Vincent Anderson as his hallucination of Eric the Monster in 'Eric'


What if Mr. Rogers was an unhinged alcoholic on the verge of a nervous breakdown? That’s basically the premise of the new Netflix limited series Eric. But it’s also about missing children, corrupt cops, the AIDS epidemic, the homeless crisis in New York City, underage sex rings, dysfunctional families, childhood trauma, and I’m sure I’m forgetting something. It’s fitting that the six-episode series’ nondescript title gives no indication what the show is about because Eric is all over the place.

Vincent Anderson (Benedict Cumberbatch) is the creator and star of the popular New York-based children’s television show Good Day Sunshine. One morning, after Vincent and his wife Cassie (Gabby Hoffman) have a horrific fight, his nine-year-old son Edgar (Ivan Howe) walks to school by himself and never makes it there. Detective Michael Ledroit (McKinley Belcher III) is assigned to the case. He’s up against his boss, Matteo Cripp (a nearly unrecognizable David Denman), who doesn’t want him asking too many questions, cops who protect their own, and a system that values a missing white child over a missing Black one.

While sympathetic to what he’s going through, Vincent’s co-workers, including the show’s producer Lennie (Dan Fogler), are frustrated by his constant lack of sobriety and loose-cannon behavior. Vincent’s parents are nightmares, His mother Anne (Phoebe Nicholls) medicated her son early and often and is eager to do so again. “You need to stop blaming everyone else for the problem and see that the solution is in yourself,” she tells her distraught son. His father, Robert (John Doman), views the unhoused as an obstacle to his real estate empire and can’t even be bothered to watch his son’s TV series. Ledroit’s partner is dying of AIDS. His childhood friend runs a questionable nightclub. There’s a lot going on.

Bamar Kane and Alexis Molnar as the puppeteers on 'Good Day Sunshine' in 'Eric'

Bamar Kane and Alexis Molnar as the puppeteers on 'Good Day Sunshine' in 'Eric'

Ludovic Robert/Netflix

Before he went missing, Edgar designed a new puppet for his father’s show, a big, blue monster he called Eric (hence the show’s title). Vincent becomes obsessed with the idea that if he creates the puppet and gets Eric on TV, Edgar will see it and come home. (If Eric’s design feels like he’s an escapee from an unfinished Jim Henson’s Creature Shop production of Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are, that’s because he was designed and created by Stitches & Glue’s Becky Johnson and Paul Vincett, veterans of Henson productions like Star Wars: The Last Jedi and The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance.)

Already unstable, Vincent begins to see Eric and have conversations with him. Eric is a manifestation of all he did wrong as a father. In addition to insisting that his son is old enough to walk to school alone, he also almost leaves him behind on the subway, thoughtlessly crosses the street without worrying if a car will hit his son, and berates him at dinnertime. None of this is helped by the way the series treats Vincent’s ongoing mental health crisis, which is not great. Characters refer to him as “losing it.” “Great time for you to go nuts again,” Lennie says to him. As this is a 1980s-period piece, the series is clearly trying to show how badly such things were handled before mental health awareness was a thing, but it still comes off as profoundly unsettling. 

There are plenty of red herrings, including the Andersons’ downstairs neighbor, George (Clarke Peters), who immediately starts talking about Edgar in the past tense. Lennie who has a past that many of his colleagues don’t know about and a garbage worker who collects questionable souvenirs. But, amid all the storyline clutter, the show doesn’t quite work as a mystery.

Ivan Howe as Edgar in 'Eric' holdfing a balloon that feels just a little too IT like for comfort

Ivan Howe as Edgar in 'Eric'

Ludovic Robert/Netflix

Eric requires leaps of logic that are just past the willing suspension of disbelief mark. How is it possible to take a puppet from conception to air in a matter of days? Who is to say? But soon Eric is being introduced as the newest character on Good Day Sunshine

Some subplots go nowhere, such as the one that wants to say something about how society treats the homeless population but never quite gets there. Other subplots spiral into cliches. (If you’ve seen one corrupt politician hiding a big secret, you’ve seen them all.) The script, by series creator Abi Morgan, contains several arch characters with Vincent’s mother being the most over the top. Ann is straight out of the Mommie Dearest School of Acting. The show is also full of lines that are probably supposed to be profound but don’t make a lot of sense. “Everyone thinks of changing the world; no one thinks of changing themselves,” a character says at one point. Huh?

It's not so much that Vincent is an unlikable character. It’s that he’s an incredibly annoying one. Amid the chaos of the show are two standout performances. Hoffman is heartbreaking as a grieving mom in a bad marriage. “I’ve got to be the best parent I can be to him, and I can’t be that with you,” she tells her husband. Belcher is phenomenal as a detective who must conceal so much of his personal life as he strives for justice and confronts an amoral system. Also, a series centered around Ledroit as he solves missing person cases in the 1980s in New York City should be green-lighted immediately.

The mantra of Good Day Sunshine is “Be Good. Be Kind. Be Brave. Be Different.” I will be kind and say Eric is definitely different. I will be kind and say the look of the show, from its 80s fashion and decor to its muted colors and soundtrack, is top-notch. But I can’t say the show is good. 

All episodes of Eric are streaming on Netflix starting Thursday, May 30, 2024.

Amy Amatangelo headshot

When Amy Amatangelo was little, her parents limited the amount of TV she could watch. You can see how well that worked out. 

In addition to Telly Visions, her work can currently be found in Paste Magazine, Emmy Magazine, and the LA Times. She also is the Treasurer of the Television Critics Association. Amy liked the ending of Lost and credits the original 90210 for her life-long devotion to teen dramas. She stays up at night wondering what happened between Julianna Margulies and Archie Panjabi and really thinks Carrie Bradshaw needs to join so she can meet a new guy. Follow her at @AmyTVGal.

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