Donny sitting on the bus wearing a yellow jacket, reindeer ears in the window in a scene from Baby Reindeer.

Baby Reindeer Review: The Jaw-Dropping True Story Is About More Than Stalking

You may have heard all the chatter about Netflix’s latest sleeper hit Baby Reindeer and wondered if it’s worth a watch. A basic description of the British black comedy drama-thriller is that it’s a story based on true events experienced by a Scottish comedian who was stalked relentlessly by a woman he met in a bar. But the story digs much deeper than that. Richard Gadd was not only stalked for years, his recollections of sexual assault by a TV writer who groomed him are disturbing and eye-opening about assault against grown men, arguably one of the least talked about types. Gadd’s portrayal, bravely reliving events based on ones that happened to him in real life, will leave you utterly gutted.

The temptation to identify perpetrators is all everyone can talk about, but the seven-episode series is not meant to be a tell-all exposé. As Gadd himself has said since Baby Reindeer exploded in popularity, he has no desire for his stalker nor abuser to be identified and vilified. Instead, it’s a cathartic, deeply personal, raw, and honest piece of art.

Putting your intense desire for vigilante justice aside, Baby Reindeer is a powerful story about self-esteem, manipulation, trauma, and failures of the justice system when it comes to victims of abuse, no matter their gender.

What is Baby Reindeer About?

Donny at the bar talking to Martha in a scene from Baby Reindeer

Baby Reindeer is based in the real story of Scottish writer, actor, and comedian Richard Gadd. Following his one man shows allegedly based on real-life experiences being stalked by a woman and sexually abused by a TV writer who groomed him, Gadd was offered the opportunity to turn this story into a multi-episode series for Netflix. Both stories are combined into the plot for Baby Reindeer, a raw look at sexual assault from the perspective of a male victim.

The story follows Gadd’s early career struggles to make it as a comedian, beginning with his time working small gigs in places like pubs in his 20s and trying his hand at local comedy competitions. Gadd plays a fictional version of himself named Donny Dunn who, one day while tending bar, takes pity on a visibly upset woman who comes into the establishment. He offers her a hot tea on the house, but she takes this compassionate gesture to be much more than it is.

Martha sitting at a bus stop staring into space in Baby Reindeer.

The two strike up a conversation that morphs into light flirting, then obsession as “Martha” (Jessica Gunning), based on Gadd’s real-life stalker, starts spending hours at the bar. She gets a hold of his e-mail address and sends Donny thousands of messages, many suggestive and graphic, some of which are displayed verbatim on the show. She shows up outside his home or at his gigs and generally interferes with every aspect of his life.

Through the stalking, Donny struggles with both appreciating the admiration he’s getting from Martha that he so desperately seeks and wanting it to stop before it goes too far. But how could he stop her even if he wanted to? Donny makes an attempt to report Martha’s odd and intrusive behavior, but the police prove to be less than helpful.

Darrien sitting in the dark, cross legged in his home in a scene from Baby Reindeer.
Baby Reindeer. Tom Goodman-Hill as Darrien in Baby Reindeer. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2024

A parallel story provides context to the puzzling ways Donny responds to Martha’s actions, including often indulging her instead of pushing her away. Years prior, Donny met a fascinating TV writer named Darrien (Tom Goodman-Hill) who promised to help him hone his talents and get him work writing for television. But their interactions that followed descend into drug-fueled binges, sexual assault, and rape.

Another key theme in the series is Donny’s confusion about his sexuality and how the violent sexual assault further complicates his feelings. While he pursues a relationship with a trans woman named Teri (Nava Mau), Donny struggles with feelings of shame, guilt, and identity that get in the way even more so than the constant interference of Martha.

Baby Reindeer Review

Donny standing behind the bar pouring beer in a scene from Baby Reindeer.

Gadd’s unbridled honesty with the story makes Baby Reindeer one of the most unique stories of sexual abuse on television. Gadd doesn’t gloss over the fact that his stalker was relentless, disturbing, violent, and dangerous. She hurt others he cared about both emotionally and physically and isn’t someone who deserves sympathy for the heinous things she did. But he is also open in depicting his own mistakes through the timeline as well as his understanding of the fact that Martha was not evil but sick. He doesn’t place blame on anyone, including himself, and openly recognizes how past trauma contributed to how both he and Martha acted.

It’s the story with Darrien, however, that provides so much context for the journey Gadd takes with Martha years later. We hear about sexual abuse in Hollywood against women as well as young boys. But we don’t hear much about grown men. Gadd, Donny in the series, was in his 20s at the time, desperate to pursue his dream. His admiration for Darrien meant that he was ripe for being groomed.

Darrien greeting Donny at the door in a scene from Baby Reinder.

The show provides an honest depiction of what grooming looks like. From the time Donny meets Darrien at a private club to how Darrien slowly ingratiates himself to Donny, it’s clear what is going on to viewers watching at home. But it’s also evident how Donny (Gadd) may not have recognized it, or at least tried not to believe what was happening. Darrien showers him with compliments, promises him the world, then encourages him to let his guard down so he can take advantage of the man in his most vulnerable state.

What’s most compelling is seeing how this impacts Donny’s other interactions, including with his girlfriend at the time Keeley (Shalom Brune-Franklin) and later his love interest Teri and stalker Martha.

Donny and Teri on the subway in a scene from Baby Reindeer.
Baby Reindeer. (L to R) Richard Gadd as Donny, Nava Mau as Teri in Baby Reindeer. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2024

Baby Reindeer is also a scathing report about how the justice system fails victims. Martha, an obviously mentally illy woman, is never given any meaningful help, despite several high-profile previous convictions. Meanwhile, despite Donny’s attempts to get police do something about the situation with Martha, he gets nowhere. While it’s never explicitly stated, it’s possible that Donny never pursued reporting Darrien, at least in part, for fear that the case likely would not have gotten anywhere anyway.

Overall, Baby Reindeer is powerful commentary on rape, sexual assault, and self-loathing. In one line in the final episode, Gadd reflects on his actions and his realization that things didn’t – couldn’t – have ever worked out with Teri because “the only thing I loved more than her was hating myself.” It’s a powerful line that sums up the story.

Should You Watch Baby Reindeer?

An overhead view of Donny lying on his bed, his computer by his side in Baby Reindeer.

Gadd has found such a compelling way to show how victims are manipulated and controlled, right down to the victim’s inability to come to terms with what happened to them and struggle with unjustly blaming themselves.

From the superb acting to the gripping, heart-wrenching story, the pacing, and the weaving of the storylines, Baby Reindeer is a must-watch. Both Gadd and Gunning deserve Emmys for their incredibly believable performances. Gadd bravely puts himself in the center of a harrowing truth he already lived through once. Gunning, meanwhile, brings Martha to life in such a way that you feel like you want to have her locked up in a jail cell, but also want to buy her a Diet Coke and sit down to talk with her so she doesn’t feel so alone.

Donny sitting on the bus wearing a yellow jacket, reindeer ears in the window in a scene from Baby Reindeer.

Baby Reindeer is about compassion, too. It’s about understanding, trauma, and self-esteem as much as it is about stalking and abuse. It’s a true work of art that translates beautifully from the one man show to the scripted small screen.

Gadd might have gotten his start playing in small pubs, desperate to make it as a top-notch comic. With Baby Reindeer, he has officially arrived.

Sent from my [sic] iphoen.

Stream Baby Reindeer on Netflix.