Eric review: Benedict Cumberbatch shines alongside big fluffy monster in extremely strange abduction drama

Television: Cumberbatch’s performance makes you want to stick with this very odd show about a child’s disappearance

The premise of Benedict Cumberbatch’s new drama, Eric (Netflix from Thursday), sounds like the worst elevator pitch of all time. Cumberbatch plays a grouchy Sesame Street-style puppeteer in 1980s New York, whose grief over the abduction and potential murder of his nine-year-old son manifests as a furry talking monster.

The creature is named Eric and is a cross between the Gruffalo and one of the existentially bereft beasties from Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are. He has horns, a big scary face and a talent for sarcastic patter that chips away at the self-confidence of the already crumbling Vincent (Cumberbatch).

You have to wonder what was in the air the day Netflix greenlit the series from Welsh playwright Abi Morgan. Miracle of miracles, however, Eric actually works wonderfully – both as a love letter to the dog days of grimy New York (imagine the Red Line Luas if it were an entire city) and a portrait of parental angst.

One reason it comes together is because of Cumberbatch’s compelling performance as man-baby Vincent, a grump, an alcoholic and a terrible husband to Cassie (Abbie Hoffmann) and father to Edgar (Ivan Morris Howe). None of these are winning traits, yet Cumberbatch invests in the character with crackling, screwball humanity. You should hate him – instead, he merely invites your pity.

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Don’t be put off by the missing kid storyline. If tense, Eric is never actively upsetting, and it teases throughout the possibility that Edgar might make it after all. Meanwhile, the scenes with the seven-foot monster work thanks to the creature’s sheer irascibility and Vincent’s flummoxed reaction – he behaves just as you or I would if confronted by a huge furball, his eyes popping and his mouth working incredulously.

Eric also features a gritty police procedural subplot involving McKinley Belcher III’s Detective Ledroit – an African American working in a force not necessarily at the cutting edge of diversity. Secretly gay, he is drawn into a feud with the vice division in his local precinct while trying to solve the mystery of Edgar’s disappearance.

An AIDS-era New York drama about a narcissistic anti-hero who comes across like the Evil Jim Henson is nobody’s idea of a promising premise. Cumberbatch, to his credit, takes it and runs with it, resulting in a trip down furry road that you’ll want to stay with to the end.