Netflix: “The Watcher” with Bobby Cannavale, Naomi Watts, and Jennifer Coolidge
Say what you will about Ryan Murphy: he knows how to keep you watching. That’s especially true of his latest offering, “The Watcher,” a seven-episode series on Netflix.
Dean and Nora Brannock (Bobby Cannavale and Naomi Watts) are two New Yorkers who’ve had it with the city and are seeking safer, greener pastures in the suburbs. They decide on Westfield, NJ (brief aside: the home in the series is actually in Westchester), especially after Dean becomes smitten with a lovely house in the town. A lawyer on the partner track, he liquidates the family savings and gets a gigunda mortgage to land this $3.2 MM property.
Unfortunately, things start going wrong right away. Their son Carter’s pet ferret is found dead in the upstairs landing. Then Dean finds a weirdo hiding in the dumbwaiter. He calls Dakota, (Henry Hudson Hall), a local security system expert, to install alarms and cameras inside and outside the house. Dakota, a good-looking 19-year-old Black guy, has eyes for Dean’s 15-year-old daughter Ellie (Isabel Gravitt). She likes him back, which makes Dad nervous.
What makes the Brannocks even more nervous are the creepy typewritten letters they start receiving from “The Watcher”, advising them that their every move is being watched. The letters may be coming from any one of the neighbors who IMHO qualify for membership in the Suburbanites-from-Hell Society. Mo (Margo Martindale from “The Americans”) is a foul-mouthed battle-ax who insists she owns the arugula on the Brannocks’ side of the fence. Mia Farrow is well cast as the odious self-righteous preservationist.
Nora confides her troubles to Karen (Jennifer Coolidge), the yenta realtor who sells them the house, and who then does a 180 and advises them to sell after the troubles begin. Once they do begin, the Brannocks get no help from the local police chief (Christopher McDonald) who encourages them to hire a private investigator (the excellent Noma Dumezweni from “The Undoing”).
Dean is obsessed with finding who “The Watcher” is, and as much as we try and resist, so are we. Is it any of the characters above, each of whom has a reason to drive the newcomers out? Or is the house simply and irreparably haunted? Sorry, no clues revealed here.
The home, by the way, is gorgeous. So are Cannavale and Watts. But what the show does best, besides scaring out of your wits, is slyly poking fun at the city dwellers who rushed to sell their homes during the pandemic and are now feeling seller’s remorse.
Conclusion: if you want a junky but fun mystery show that will keep you guessing who-dunnit for hours, try watching “The Watcher.” If Ryan Murphy can turn Jennifer Coolidge into a foul-mouthed, high-maintenance real estate agent, he can do anything.