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Will Forte Journeys Through Familiar Murder-Mystery Territory in Bodkin

The new Netflix comedy recalls both Ted Lasso and Only Murders in the Building, but it's a much darker series.
  • Will Forte, Siobhán Cullen, and Robyn Cara in Bodkin (Photo: Netflix)
    Will Forte, Siobhán Cullen, and Robyn Cara in Bodkin (Photo: Netflix)

    The confluence of inspirations and potentially inadvertent allusions in the new Netflix series Bodkin are both impossible to avoid discussing, and often its most interesting aspect. But a series being intriguing to discuss is not the same as that series being effectively entertaining from start to finish. In fits and starts, Bodkin is actually quite captivating, boasting a very impressive lead performance from Irish actress Siobhán Cullen and trying its hand at tweaking the small-town murder mystery that’s served as the foundation for many a film and TV show. 

    However, for a seven-episode series that could just as easily be a one-and-done story as the springboard for future seasons, Bodkin is a strange hybrid of comedy and drama, of tough-as-nails crime drama and spooky cult horror. It’s admirable for a series to aim high, but this show only succeeds at some of its creative ambitions.

    Cullen is, despite delivering the series’s best performance, not a particularly big name when it comes to Bodkin, and to ignore the heavy hitters here would be a disservice. In fact, the two biggest names involved in the series are only listed in the credits — former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama serve as executive producers through their Higher Ground production company. (Bodkin marks that company’s first foray into fictional TV through Netflix.) And beyond the Obamas, the big name in front of the camera is Saturday Night Live alum Will Forte. Forte plays Gilbert Power, an American podcaster looking to find his latest hit with a true-crime podcast inspired by some mysterious disappearances in the small Irish town of Bodkin. 

    In the first of seven episodes, Bodkin creator Jez Scharf either intentionally or accidentally leans into how the series could be seen as a potential riff on Ted Lasso. Here, we have another streaming series set in the UK, starring a mid-00s SNL star as an upbeat and sunny American on a strange journey away from his wife, in part because of relationship problems at home. But where Ted Lasso shows us how that sunny American can change the personalities of those with whom he comes into contact, that’s not the case for Gilbert’s fish-out-of-water story. 

    He’s paired with Dove (Cullen), an Irish journalist working for The Guardian who is essentially demoted to working with Gilbert on his podcast after a story of hers went so wrong that a source died by suicide. (That latter part may seem like a spoiler but occurs within the first five minutes.) Although Gilbert and Dove seem preternaturally opposed to each other, they quickly realize, along with Gilbert’s researcher Emmy (Robyn Cara), that the foundation for the podcast —documenting the disappearances in Bodkin that occurred at a years-ago celebration of Samhain (similar to an Irish Halloween) —is actually covering up a much greater conspiracy.

    That leads to the other unavoidable allusion in Bodkin: Only Murders in the Building, a streaming series co-starring an SNL alum who hosts a true-crime podcast while investigating some dirty goings-on at the same time. What makes Bodkin stand apart from both Ted Lasso and Only Murders is that it’s a much darker series, incorporating a lengthy subplot involving a wayward island of nuns (recalling nothing less than the seminal British horror film The Wicker Man), an Irish tech guru who’s trying to remake Bodkin and bring it into the 21st century, and a surprising amount of sea creatures. 

    The issue with Bodkin is less that it’s a show that should be a movie, and more that there are maybe four different series with four different tones warring for dominance throughout. Scharf allots enough time to give reasonable character arcs to not only the three leads, but also a gregarious but temperamental fisherman named Seamus (David Wilmot), the adopted Romanian driver (Chris Walley), and even throwing in some Irish mobsters to boot. These seven hours have a lot going on.

    Perhaps the most compelling question is whether or not Bodkin would have gotten made without the presence of Will Forte. (Though Wilmot has appeared in series like Station Eleven, Forte is unquestionably the most familiar face to American audiences.) It’s not that Forte is miscast as Gilbert — to his credit, there’s no winking or irony in his performance, and his arc involving a shaky marriage back home is well acted, if somewhat slight. But the show isn’t quite sure of how to utilize him consistently. In the opening hour, his sunny nature seems less likely to rub off on the Irish and more likely to piss them off, and although Gilbert becomes more three-dimensional, there’s also meant-to-be-funny moments that feel shoehorned-in, as when he gets maced after trying to protect a friend from the arrival of the authorities. 

    Though each episode is bookended by brief podcast-esque narration from Forte, as if we’re listening to the end result of whatever podcast he created, Dove is the true lead of Bodkin. Although some of her backstory is so weighty that it often threatens to distract from the mystery at the core of the show, Cullen serves as the series’s bedrock. That’s much to her credit, especially since Dove is cut from the cloth of the now overly familiar crime-drama trope of the investigator whose dark past makes them cynical (but also has a secret little heart of gold). Cara also acquits herself nicely as an initially meek researcher whose big career goals only get realized thanks to Dove pushing her to be more aggressive with what she wants in life. 

    In some ways, Emmy feels like a microcosm of Bodkin as a whole — aiming high and trying some things without always hitting the mark. Some of the big swings Scharf and the writers take end up being more befuddling than anything else, as in a mid-series episode that takes a page from the Kurosawa classic Rashomon, depicting multiple perspectives of the same group of events. (The idea is fine, if overdone; it’s that the notion of the episode rewinding to depict multiple perspectives only becomes clear roughly 20 minutes in, and thus feels awfully random.) 

    Bodkin is going big or going home, and is effectively paced enough throughout its seven episodes that the series never drags for too long. But so much of the ensemble all often appear to be in their own series-within-a-series — large swaths of the show separate Gilbert, Dove, and Emmy for various reasons — and so it’s a bit hard to fully glom onto any one of them. 

    That approach is why the outside references are hard to ignore. For each unexpected twist or impressive performance, there’s a turn of the plot or a character arc that’s just too reminiscent of something else to stand on its own. Bodkin is not remotely boring, but it never quite coalesces into an effective overall story.

    Bodkin is now streaming on Netflix. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Josh Spiegel is a writer and critic who lives in Phoenix with his wife, two sons, and far too many cats. Follow him on Bluesky at @mousterpiece.

    TOPICS: Bodkin, Netflix, Jez Scharf, Siobhán Cullen, Will Forte