Don't Watch 'The Watcher'

Created by Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan

Starring Naomi Watts, Jennifer Coolidge, Bobby Cannavale, Mia Farrow, Margo Martindale

Photo: Eric Liebowitz / Netflix

BY Sarah Jessica Rintjema Published Oct 19, 2022

In June 2014, Derek and Maria Broaddus bought 657 Boulevard, a six-bedroom, 110 year-old home in New Jersey. Three days after purchasing the house, Derek and Maria, along with their three young children, received the family's first of many "Watcher" letters: disturbing notes from an anonymous stalker who claimed to be the protector of their new home. The letters included various threats and references to their children's names and hobbies, details the Watcher could only know if they were listening nearby. Six months after the arrival of the first letter, the Broaddus family began attempting to sell 657 Boulevard, never having fully moved in. To this day, the Watcher has never been identified.

Co-creator Ryan Murphy had previously found great success with the premiere season of American Horror Story: Murder House, and should have been grateful to be handed a real-life haunted house story that taps into the fear and powerlessness created by a deranged stalker. But between the release of the horrendously titled DAHMER - Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story (another Murphy co-creation) and the upcoming season of American Horror Story, perhaps Murphy has bitten off more than he can chew.

The fictionalized telling of the Broaddus family's story (whose names have been changed to Dean and Nora Brannock and are played by Bobby Cannavale and Naomi Watts, respectively) moves too fast to establish a connection to its characters or steep its audience in anxiety, immediately throwing suspense out the window. The Watcher is, above all else, messy and confusing, littered with too many plotlines and half-baked ideas to form a comprehensive story. 

Elements that helped make 2011's Murder House so iconic were the hazy, dream-like filmmaking, quick cuts and rambling monologues from characters who appeared out of nowhere, creating a disorienting experience that muddled reality. Quality haunted house stories play with an audience's sense of time, reality and sanity (The Shining and The Haunting of Hill House being great examples), which Murphy has proven himself extremely capable of doing in the past. But these aspects are completely abandoned in The Watcher. Instead, Murphy leaves his viewers tearing their hair out of frustration after each villain changes from one personality to the next.

Although provided with talented actors, Murphy's script of sticky notes slapped on a whiteboard and assembled during DAHMER lunch breaks couldn't be saved by even a Meryl Streep-calibre performance. Jennifer Coolidge brings her A-game as Karen Calhoun, Dean and Nora's real estate agent, providing thoughtful, fun camp to a project that otherwise feels rushed.

It's a golden story graciously served on a silver Netflix platter, and should have resulted in a Murphy renaissance. Whether the upcoming American Horror Story: NYC is good or not, unfortunately, the director originally known for his pop culture defining projects seems to be churning out more duds than studs (see: Ratched, The Prom), and eventually, Murphy's audience may decide it's best to stop tuning in altogether.

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