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Showtime's new series 'Patrick Melrose' shows growth after horrifying abuse

May 10, 2018 Updated: May 10, 2018 at 9:29 pm
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Benedict Cumberbatch as Patrick MelroseBenedict Cumberbatch as Patrick Melrose in PATRICK MELROSE (Season 1, Episode 01, "101-Bad News"). - Photo: Justin Downing/SHOWTIME - Photo ID: PM_101_B4_SNY06512.R.jpg

"Patrick Melrose"

Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch ("Dr. Strange," "Sherlock"), Jennifer Jason Leigh ("The Hateful Eight," "Single White Female"), Hugo Weaving ("The Matrix" trilogy), Blythe Danner ("Meet the Fockers"), Allison Williams ("Girls," "Get Out"), Pip Torrens ("The Crown")

Airs: The five-episode limited series premieres Saturday on Showtime

The premise: Based on the series of semi-autobiographical novels by Edward St. Aubyn, "Patrick Melrose" is a detailed look at one person's journey from a traumatic childhood to the painful growth it took to become an emotionally stable adult. Emmy and Golden Globe winner Benedict Cumberbatch plays the titular character, who struggles to overcome the damage inflicted upon him by an abusive father and passive mother.

Each episode is devoted to one of Edward St. Aubyn's five "Patrick Melrose" novels. Besides starring, Cumberbatch is also an executive producer of the series.

Highs: "Patrick Melrose" is filled with dysfunctional characters. Hidden by an aristocratic veneer, the Melrose clan seems respectable, but it's one of the most depressing families on television. This series provides a deep, layered look at how one man's cruelty can have a negative effect on so many. While it may not be easy to watch, its harsh sincerity is brought forth by some amazing performances.

When we meet Patrick, he's immensely unlikeable. Trashing a hotel room, talking down to people and acting like a spoiled rich kid make this drug addict an unsympathetic figure. But we get glimpses of who Patrick really is. There's honest emotion when he sees his father the last time, and he can be incredibly witty. Patrick has potential, but it's buried under layers of pain.

Patrick's mother, Eleanor (Jennifer Jason Leigh), is an American heiress. Her love for her husband faded when his cruelty was revealed, so Eleanor self-medicated with alcohol. Her parenting style is "not to interfere," which leaves her only child in the hands of a tyrant. A mother who offers kindness but nothing more substantial, she's sure to be disliked by audiences - at least until they realize Eleanor is as trapped as her son.

Patrick's father, David (Hugo Weaving), speaks with purpose and elegance, yet even his friends find him intense and intimidating. David is almost always the smartest person in the room. His intelligence combined with a manipulative manner and an underlying, unexplainable deviant streak make him a terrifying figure.

All three primary actors shine, but Weaving stands out in the two episodes I watched. He's captivating and horrifying.

Lows: I've never read any of the "Patrick Melrose" books, so I was caught a bit off guard by the sequencing of the first two episodes. Episode one takes place in New York in 1982 after Patrick's father has died. Episode two is set Italy in 1967. The episodes feel out of order, with the second giving more context to Patrick's mental and emotional state than the first. Some elements tie the two, but it was a bit off-putting.

More troublesome for viewers will be the content. There's no getting around it, the subject matter in "Patrick Melrose" is hard to watch. The levels and variety of abuse are shocking and almost constant. Seeing the world through Patrick's eyes is traumatic and, aside from a few moments of levity, without much relief.

Grade: (C): Don't be surprised if you feel conflicted while watching "Patrick Melrose." Every actor dives into his or her role with relish. Although most of the characters are horrible people, there are some great performances. Just expect your enthusiasm for this series to be tempered by its challenging content.

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Gazette media columnist Terry Terrones is a member of the Television Critics Association and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association. You can follow him on Twitter at @terryterrones.

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