3.5 out of 5 stars

Bodkin aims to explore the conventions of true-crime storytelling, delivering an engaging mystery with colourful, eccentric characters. However, it struggles to offer much originality. Set in the fictional Irish town of Bodkin, a group of amateur detectives join forces to investigate a 25-year-old missing person’s case. With the locals determined to keep the past buried, they must delve into murky waters to uncover the truth.

Dove Maloney (Siobhán Cullen) is a tough-talking investigative journalist determined to extract the truth from people at any cost. However, she’s under investigation for allegedly breaching the Official Secrets Act on her last story, which resulted in the death of one of her sources and the disappearance of his laptop. Believing she should keep a low profile while the case goes to court, her editor at the Guardian sends her on a seemingly low-key assignment in Bodkin. The only stipulation is that she must work alongside American true-crime podcaster Gilbert Power (Will Forte) and his researcher Emmy Sizergh (Robyn Cara), both of whom share a somewhat unrealistic perspective on crime and death.

“Three unconnected people go missing on the Irish Night of the Dead. And now the town is reviving the Samhain Festival,” Gilbert says enthusiastically in the first episode. “I mean, it’s a great story lens for a podcast.”

Dove, Gilbert, and Emmy arrive during the infamous “Samhain” festival, but the locals’ treatment of the disappearances resembles something more akin to a festive Hallowe’en party than a solemn remembrance for the dead or missing. They’re guided by their over-enthusiastic driver Seán (Chris Walley) through lush green countryside and rolling hills to the town’s pub and guesthouse. It’s at the pub where they encounter several locals whose stories intersect with the mysterious disappearances.

This Netflix series is well-paced for the most part, with the occasional slow patch. However, the mystery keeps audiences hooked, as everyone in Bodkin appears to be harbouring secrets and ulterior motives. While some plot points genuinely intrigue, others that aim to satirise media storytelling make the series a touch more predictable than initially intended.

Viewers may find the satirical or eccentric concepts in the town of Bodkin genuinely funny and engaging. Others might find themselves needing to suspend their disbelief. For instance, the concept of a convent opening its doors to patrons seeking rejuvenation in sweaty Turkish baths and outdoor Pilates classes could come across as rather ludicrous. But the key thing to remember here is that it’s all a bit of good fun in the end, and the series succeeds in most respects.

The film boasts excellent cinematography by both Cathal Watters and Piers McGrail. Their vision shines through in scenes that capture the dreamlike qualities of the Irish landscape. Warm tavern lights illuminate the night, while ancient stone bridges evoke a sense of history and nostalgia. The most memorable location is the convent, perched atop a hill like an ancient castle. This invites viewers to wonder if something unsettling lurks beneath the picturesque facade.

The casting is also worth noting. While many supporting actors don’t make a huge impact, two stand out as key contributors to the series. Both Fionnula Flanagan, who portrays Mother Bernadette, and David Wilmot, who portrays Seamus Gallagher, steal scenes here and there. Together, they create a barrier that the trio must overcome as they delve deeper into the unsolved cases.

From his first scene as Gilbert Power, Will Forte (The Last Man on Earth) captures his character’s charm with his comedic talents. He fits well into the role of a tourist on holiday, yearning to understand people and empathise with their stories. As a true-crime podcaster, Gilbert has amassed a strong social media following and even earned a Peabody Award, making him a valuable companion during the investigation, although Dove is always reluctant to take him seriously.

Excited and lost in the Irish landscape, he’s oblivious to the country’s serious downpour and constant overcast skies, falling in love with every lake and tree and delivering well-timed comedic commentary that mirrors the series’ core messages. At times, it’s almost impossible not to crack a smile or giggle at Forte’s performance and harder not to be reminded of his role as the clumsy action hero in MacGruber (2010). Even so, he’s surprisingly able to scale back on his comedy to deliver a more emotional performance when needed, balancing out the series with empathy, sincerity, and merriment.

By contrast, Siobhán Cullen’s Dove emerges as unempathetic and ruthless, providing a valuable contrast to Gilbert’s unshakeable optimism. The issue with her character is that she’s unpleasant and, at times, difficult to cheer on. However, Cullen occasionally injects a sense of darkness into her performance, which suits her character well.

Emmy finds herself in the midst of it all, enthusiastic about investigative journalism but unaware of the qualities needed to crack a major story. Robyn Cara guides Emmy on her journey, transforming her from a novice researcher into someone who takes pride in her work, despite her short acting career. The trio appear to be compelling protagonists worth following.

The most significant aspect of these characters isn’t necessarily that they come across as clichéd caricatures of the well-established genre—you have the hard-hitting journalist, the naive foreigner, and the apprentice reporter. It’s the fact that they do undergo some form of development, however miniscule, during the story.

In Bodkin’s podcast, the use of audio goes beyond simply being a narrative tool; it acts as a commentary on the allure and pitfalls of true-crime storytelling, as well as our culture’s obsession with media consumption. As Gilbert, microphone in hand, navigates the town’s secrets, the lines between journalism and entertainment blur. This is, of course, not a new phenomenon. Exploring the ethics of journalism feels familiar within the genre, and some viewers might find it a shame that the series doesn’t delve deeper into this area. Some viewers may even be struck by these obvious yet fitting messages, and find themselves wishing for a more vivid portrayal of the missing characters. However, this lack of detail might be entirely deliberate.

Ultimately, Bodkin joins the growing list of true-crime podcast thrillers, like Based on a True Story (2023) and Only Murders in the Building, opting to comment on and sometimes parody the genre rather than adding much more than an engaging story. While Bodkin has its positives, it doesn’t quite reach the heights of originality achieved by works like the sci-fi podcast thriller Monolith (2022). However, it uses its dark humour to carve out a niche in the middle ground. With a strong hint of a second season on the horizon, that could all change.


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Cast & Crew

writers: Jez Scharf, Alex Metcalf, Ursula Rani Sarma, Megan Mostyn-Brown, Oneika Barrett, Mike O’Leary & Paddy Campbell.
directors: Nash Edgerton, Bronwen Hughs, Johnny Allan & Paddy Breathnach.
starring: Siobhán Cullen, Chris Walley, Will Forte, Robyn Cara & David Wilmot.