Is Netflix’s The Watcher Series Based On True Story?

Read “The Watcher,” and you’ll never forget the unforgettable true events that transpired. The story of 657 Boulevard, an address in Westfield, New Jersey that was stalked by an unknown person, appeared in November 2018. In 2014, Derek Broaddus and his wife Maria discovered their dream home, but soon after moving in, they began getting strange and threatening messages.

The letter writer obviously knew the Broadduses well and had been keeping an eye on their home, as evidenced by the many specific facts about the family’s daily routines that were included. By asking them questions such as, “Do you know what lives in the walls of 657 Boulevard?” and “Do you need to fill the house with the youthful blood I requested?” the Broadduses were understandably frightened.

Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan’s highly fictitious rendition of this strange incident is tonally adrift and veils the impossible-to-believe occurrences rather than clarifying them, or you can spend hours online digging down rabbit holes of hypotheses as to who delivered the messages.

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Murphy and his team don’t trust the facts, creating more and more ludicrous twists with each episode, until the whole thing collapses under any suspension of disbelief, despite the fact that there are so many themes that might be explored via the minutiae of the actual narrative of “The Watcher.” They believe that momentum is the only thing that will keep viewers watching, and so they are not about character development, atmosphere, or anything else.

“The Watcher” is a Netflix original series that feels like it could have been a Movie of the Week on a major network in the 1970s or 1980s. And this one comes from one of TV’s most prolific creators, Ryan Murphy, who is clearly riding high off the popularity of “Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” and wants to give his fans one last fright before the premiere of “American Horror Story: NYC” next week.

The humor and campy enthusiasm that Murphy and his team once possessed have dwindled. The similarities between this and Murphy’s big franchise starter “American Horror Story: Murder House” are obvious; both revolve around a seemingly normal family moving into a potentially haunted house (although no rubber men in this one).

Yet, when compared to others, this endeavor falls far short since it ignores the potential threat inherent in its topic. Despite some moments of escapist humor, the film is largely an exercise in overwriting, with little evidence of an attempt to recapture the eerie, unnerving instability that distinguished Murphy’s best works.

The Broaddus has been recast as Nora (Naomi Watts) and Dean Brannock (Bobby Cannavale), who move into 657 Boulevard with two children rather than the actual Broaddus three. This is only one of the dozens of modifications made to the original plot. I have no problem with artists being inspired by real events, and I even like it when they are used to develop something artistically intriguing, but “The Watcher” keeps adding rooms to an already sprawling TV plot in a way that feels random and superfluous.

The Watcher Cast
The Watcher Cast

The private investigator Theodora Birch, played by Noma Dumezweni with an uneasy balance between serious mystery and humor, provides almost all of these revelations through a series of exposition dumps. She aids the Brannock family in identifying possible “Watcher Suspects.”

Is it the nosy neighbors (Margo Martindale and Richard Kind) sending the notes? Do you want to hear about Terry Kinney’s disturbing neighbor and Mia Farrow’s conservative mother? Karen (Jennifer Coolidge), their real estate agent, might be involved, right? How do you like the new security guard, Dakota (Henry Hunter Hall)? And what if Dean is the one sending the messages in an effort to back out of a sale he just can’t afford?

The first two episodes of “The Watcher” establish the show as a parody of “The Shining” or “The Amityville Horror” (as it should be, actually), in that it focuses more on the degeneration of a patriarch than on a real physical menace.

When Brannock asks his father, “Dad, can you keep us safe?” Cannavale convincingly portrays Dean’s eroding self-assurance. It’s an intriguing take on a genuine story since it focuses on vulnerability, particularly the kind that threatens to subvert the norms of masculinity.

Dean has a tough time at work and is unable to provide for or comfort his wife. He finds out that the other male residents of 657 Boulevard have experienced comparable suffering, including the complete destruction of one family. It’s implied that the stability of the typical modern suburban household is quite precarious, the kind of thing that can break up a family if it’s examined too thoroughly.

Themes like Satanism, infidelity, hidden tunnels, and, well, home fetishization conveyed through poetry are introduced in “The Watcher,” as well as in most of Murphy’s recent work, but they are quickly dismissed in favor of a jumble of unrelated concepts (yes, seriously).

While Murphy has always been one to stir the pot, the creative fire that once fueled his provocations appears to have dimmed under the weight of his workload, resulting in a style that prioritizes quantity over quality.

The real-life events that inspired “The Watcher” evoke deep, irrational terror. When we get home, we should all feel secure. Every parent wants to reassure their children that they will be safe with them. We’re all definitely a little warier of what’s happening in our neighbors’ homes, especially in this period of true crime anxiety.

Where are they going and what are they doing? And what’s with their fixation with the view outside the window? The plot of 657 Boulevard might easily have dealt with these issues or addressed these anxieties, but the creators of “The Watcher” don’t seem to trust their viewers. They may succeed in getting your attention, but they didn’t bother to create anything memorable.

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