Fans outside of the U.S. are finally getting the chance to see the all-star ensemble miniseries Dopesick now that it’s on Disney+. One of the streaming platform’s offerings via Star, the Hulu series arrived in international markets as part of Disney+ Day on Nov. 12 celebrating the two-year anniversary of the site’s launch. An equally engrossing and enraging look at the opioid crisis in the U.S. and the proliferation of OxyContin, Dopesick is as addictive as the drug its characters peddle to the masses.
A harrowing real-life drama that spans decades, locations, and timelines, Dopesick is utterly compelling as it tackles the opioid epidemic. Simply put, it’s a story about how Purdue Pharma falsely and knowingly pushed a drug they claimed was non-addictive into the marketplace through small-town physicians and the series follows the uphill battle to hold them accountable. While the fight against Purdue Pharma is far from over, the eight-episode series from exec producers (and star) Michael Keaton and Danny Strong presents an edge-of-your-seat, yet digestible take on how we got to this point.
Based on the book Dopesick by Beth Macy, the series utilizes its ensemble to tell various parts of one engrossing story. In the late 1990s’ arc, Keaton is the fictional Dr. Finnix, an Appalachian family doctor who, wooed by Purdue Pharma sales rep Billy (Will Poulter), starts handing out painkiller OxyContin to his patients, including young coal miner Betsy (Kaitlyn Dever). With the message that his new creation is far from addictive, Purdue Pharma’s Dr. Richard Sackler (Michael Stuhlbarg) sees the money rolling in from this new “wonder drug.” Oxy soon begins proliferating the marketplace as the small towns reliant on physical labour in mining and forestry become ground zero for the growing pharmaceutical disaster.
Spliced into this story is the investigation into the peddlers of the drug that has taken hold on America. Peter Sarsgaard and John Hoogenakker are real-life lawyers Rick Mountcastle and Randy Ramsmeyer, digging into the case over Purdue’s misleading claims about the drug. They are aligned with DEA agent Bridget Meyer (Rosario Dawson), a fictional amalgam of real-life DEA investigators.
The first episode of Dopesick lays a lot of groundwork for the series. It can be a challenge to keep timelines and chains of events straight while being introduced to each storyline, but patience pays off as the series finds its footing in episode two. (Episodes one through three were made available for review.) Taking a similar approach to The Big Short, Dopesick educates viewers regarding exactly how and why the proliferation of Oxy happened. Although there are some “after school special” vibes at times, the series manages to reign in what can be described as its more moralizing moments.
The show’s pure star power is an immediate draw with each actor giving top-notch performances, but the series’ standout writing gives Dopesick‘s cast a reason to flex their acting skills. These characters not only have to do the heavy lifting in explanatory moments but also offer the very human side of the opioid crisis, in particular the storyline involving Keaton and Dever’s characters. This is a cast so in tune with the material, it’s hard to single out a standout performance among the ensemble.
Watching Dopesick unfold is akin to watching a horror film. As a viewer knowing the outcome, it is at times hard to watch the characters go through the motions on screen, wanting to scream out “don’t take that pill!” the way one might scream at a character running up the stairs instead of out the front door in a slasher movie.
Despite the heavy subject matter, Dopesick proves to be a highly addictive watch and one of the year’s best series.
Dopsick is now streaming on Disney+.