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This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie/series/feature being covered here wouldn't exist.

"Painkiller is a star-studded opioid drama that is a distressing but an exhilarating watch."

Painkiller is a Netflix drama series, based on the origins of America’s opioid epidemic. The series stars Matthew Broderick, Uzo Aduba, Taylor Kitsch, Dina Shihabi and West Duchovny. There are six episodes in this limited series, with a runtime between forty minutes and one hour.

The series opens with a statement that this is based on real events, but names, incidents, location and dialogue have been fictionalised for dramatic purposes. What wasn’t fictionalised is that this person speaking’s son was prescribed Oxycontin at 15 and after living with addiction eventually died at 32, alone, in a gas station parking lot. At the beginning of each episode there is a very emotional and raw homage to someone who has died from the oxycontin crisis. Each one brings the viewer back to the realisation that whilst this is dramatised, it’s based on a real epidemic which caused hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths, and is still affecting people today.


Matthew Broderick (Godzilla) showcases his acting talent through his portrayal of Dr. Richard Sackler. He’s hard-faced and brutal, yet vulnerable and childlike. Uzo Aduba (Orange is the New Black) gives a compelling performance as Edie Flowers, bringing an intensity to every scene. Her character guides the viewer through the story, similar to a documentary, as she’s being interviewed. There is a lot of talking in this series, but because there is so much detail and it’s deeply descriptive, you are not left feeling overwhelmed or bored.

Episode one delves into Dr. Sackler, Edie Flowers and how they are involved in a case against big pharma. The series then follows stories of perpetrators, victims, sales representatives, and truth-seekers. There are three parallel storylines running through, one is of a father who has an accident damaging his back, who is prescribed oxycontin, being a safer drug that you take less frequently but has better results and becomes addicted. There is a story of two sales reps; they are two pretty blonde girls, and when one is shouted at and called “a drug dealer with a ponytail”, I did laugh out loud. It’s not a comedy, obviously, but there are some funny moments. Their story shows how the drugs are promoted and pushed through showmanship or by “little sexy angels invading America” as they’re referred to by Flowers.


The series is drilling into how Pharmaceutical companies take advantage of people in pain, for personal gain. They rely on people running away from pain towards pleasure, and hope they never get better, and get addicted so they always have customers and money going into their pockets. It tells the story of how these drugs are concocted and distributed, and how they make millions, and billions.

The drama builds and in the final episode we see the final conclusion of our three separate storylines, as they come together. Without too many spoilers, it’s hard-hitting, blood-boiling mixed with some satisfaction and happier endings. There are facts presented at the end about the real case and the continued crisis, which leaves a pause for thought.

Overall, Painkiller is a passionate series, which has a great pace, excellent acting and a compelling storyline based on true events. If there’s one series you should invest in, it’s this one.


Painkiller rating


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