By Andrea Rouda
DOPESICK, based on journalist Beth Macy’s 2018 book of the same name, is one of the best (if not the best) shows streaming right now. As usual I’m late to the party since it debuted on Hulu last October 13, back when I was watching the news about the coronavirus. Finally I figured out it’s the same thing every night and stumbled onto this series, grabbed by the name; “dopesick” refers to the symptoms caused by opiate withdrawal. I can already tell I’ll have those same feelings when this show ends, because after watching just four of the eight hour-long episodes I’m seriously hooked.
A somewhat fictionalized, almost-documentary based on a book, the plot revolves around the 1995 birth of OxyContin, following its initial celebration as the end of pain for all mankind to its downfall as the trigger of America’s deadly opioid crisis. At the center is Purdue Pharma owned by the billionaire Sackler family, the heartless manufacturer responsible for the drug’s mislabeling and false marketing that would lead to the addiction and deaths of many thousands of people, mostly young.
Two of the major talents are director Barry Levinson and actor Michael Keaton. Almost unrecognizable here, Keaton literally disappears into the role of a small-town country doctor, and not through wild makeup or outlandish costumes (like in Beetlejuice and Batman) but by sheer acting ability. His performance rightly won him the 2022 Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a miniseries.
The rest of the noteworthy cast includes Rosario Dawson as a DEA agent, Peter Sarsgaard as a lawyer for the Justice Department, and especially the young Kaitlyn Dever as an Appalachian coal miner who becomes addicted to the drug, with dire consequences.
Dopesick is instantly gripping and informative about the inner workings of the pharmaceutical industry, albeit gut-wrenching and sad at times. It will transport you to another world, and that’s basically why you set aside your real life to watch anything, right?
Andrea Rouda blogs at The Daily Droid.