The chilling reconstruction of The Staircase goes a step too far
Say what you like about Antonio Campos’ The Staircase (Sky Atlantic/Now), but it probably wasn’t made for Binging. Taking a cue from the award-winning true-crime documentaries of the same name, this dark and startlingly grisly drama has haunted me all week. Much of this stems from a spooky sequence from episode two, which is perhaps the most disturbing thing I’ve seen this year.
Fortunately, this is not a homicide, but an imaginary reconstruction – courtesy of a coroner – that suggests that North Carolina native Kathleen Peterson’s death may have been an accident and that her husband Michael is about to to be tried for her murder is innocent. As if it weren’t enough — and it should be — to describe how the incident might have happened, Campos and colleague Maggie Cohn have Toni Collette (great, as always) portray it.
A tense, scary and tightly framed segment in which Collette’s Kathleen trips on the stairs on her way to bed and bangs her head against the wall. Now we probably don’t have to go into detail, but we will say that Kathleen’s life ends in a horrible, horrible way, and that Campos – is filming from the top of the stairs, so the clip ends with a lingering shot of her bloody head, which is us stares at – drags out this deeply disturbing sequence longer than necessary.
Worse, it adds nothing to the story. As the subsequent trial would decide, Kathleen Peterson didn’t die that way, but hey, that’s where we are now with true crime satas on the small screen. Viewers want macabre – they want to be shocked. It’s a worrying trend, though The stairs will probably be huge.
Indeed, Campos’ series takes the odd case of Michael Peterson – the raunchy novelist who called 911 after he “found” his wife in a terrible state at the bottom of the steps of their Durham mansion in the run-up to Christmas in 2001 – and turned it around him into a edgy, mind-bending thriller about the truth and how to find out who’s telling it.
If you’ve seen the docuseries (it’s on Netflix) then you know how this thing ends. I haven’t, and while Google has already spoiled the result, I’m intrigued by the family structure at the heart of Campos’ puzzle-like drama. It helps that Colin Firth – the best he’s played here in a long time – plays Michael Peterson as a man of many contradictions.
It is evident that Kathleen not only tripped and fell, but The stairs treats his audience like a jury. It wants us to make up our own minds. It wants you to doubt yourself. Through a series of skillfully staged flashbacks and flashbacks, it presents a mystery that, while a bit muddled at first, eventually finds its ground.
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All known genre elements are in the game. The suspect is high-spirited, aspires to a career in politics and harbors a secret about his sexuality. Some of his children (Sophie Turner and Dane DeHaan enter) believe that Dad is telling the truth and that Mom was in an accident; others have their concerns and may be hiding their own secrets.
The incomparable Michael Stuhlbarg delivers a brilliant turn as a lawyer working hard to convince himself and everyone around him of Peterson’s innocence. But there are surprises, most notably an intriguing subplot about the making of the original documentary.
Filmmaker Jean-Xavier de Lestrade came on board shortly after Peterson was indicted, and his series has followed the case from every turn, meaning the people behind the original show are now key ingredients in an eight-episode HBO drama to go on whole based. Yes, TV officially ate itself.
If, like me, you need something light afterward, I suggest Bullsh*t The Game Show (Netflix)? The concept is shockingly simple. So simple, in fact, that yelping host Howie Mandel risks complicating the process by constantly explaining.
Brave American contestants come onto the show to try and win a million dollars. All they have to do is answer a few questions correctly – or wrongly, so to speak.
They have three challengers (bolder Americans) in front of them, and it’s up to these guys to decide if the player knows their stuff or if they’re bullsh*tting. Every time they get away with bullsh*tting, they win more money. It sounds idiotic (which it is), but I couldn’t take my eyes off it. Honestly, the drama is intense, the players’ confidence off the charts – and the questions are occasionally stupid.
Take this rattle for example. “Which of the following statements is sometimes referred to as ‘a little how is your father’ in the UK? a) get drunk, b) commit a crime, c) gas, or d) have sex.” Yes, they actually asked that, and the person who answered ended up walking away with $250,000. Incredible scenes. Humanity is obviously doomed, but you already knew that.
Finally, brainstorming (RTÉ One), a “new series about new thinking” launched this week. In it, social historian Donal Fallon asks all sorts of questions about the world we live in.
In the first episode, the friendly Fallon meets various academics and experts to strike out some intellectual breezes on a variety of topics, such as the benefits of sharing your home with a dog (dog owners seem to live longer than non-dog owners) and how Due to climate change, pollen is now a bigger problem for hay fever sufferers (my itchy face can attest to this).
Fallon also visits Collins Barracks to examine Michael Collins’ cozy wolf slippers (you read that right) and talks to a friendly mathematician about a confusing formula to determine the world’s best snooker player.
Happy educational TV that tries to do too much at once but has a good time. It is enough.
https://www.independent.ie/entertainment/television/tv-reviews/the-staircases-terrifying-reconstruction-goes-a-step-too-far-41617998.html The chilling reconstruction of The Staircase goes a step too far