‘Bodkin’ review: A true-crime podcast descends upon rural Ireland, with mediocre results

True-crime podcasts are enough of a phenomenon that they’ve become a premise for scripted, fictional TV shows. Following on the heels of “Only Murders in the Building” (Hulu), “Based on a True Story” (Peacock) and “Truth Be Told” (Apple TV+), we can add “Bodkin,” a seven-episode thriller on Netflix about a trio who arrive in the sleepy Irish town of the title to investigate the disappearance of three strangers who went missing 20 years earlier.

(If Hollywood is so eager to greenlight shows that reflect our world back to us, why haven’t we seen a bunch about union organizing? But I digress. True-crime podcasters it is.)

“Saturday Night Live” alum Will Forte (the sole American in the cast) plays Gilbert, whose first podcast made him into a minor star. He hasn’t been able to replicate his initial success and as a one-hit wonder, he’s driven by professional desperation. Siobhán Cullen plays Dove, an Irish newspaper journalist based in London. When a story she’s working on proves too dangerous, her boss reassigns her to work with Gilbert and she reluctantly agrees. Off they go to Bodkin with a young and inexperienced assistant of sorts named Emmy (Robyn Cara). Her job description is unclear, but that’s the least of the issues that hamper the series. It’s too bad because it starts off promisingly enough.

The show isn’t a satire so much as a misty, murky thriller that (initially, at least) has some decent sardonic energy driving it. There’s a running joke every time they explain the podcast to someone new: “And people will listen to it?” comes the amused if dubious reply. The show also pokes fun at cliches about Ireland’s beauty while also capturing said beauty. “Is it raining? I can’t tell,” Gilberts asks at one point. “It’s just sort of a wet breeze?” Emmy wonders. A local interrupts their conversation: “It stays raining in Ireland. Even when you think it’s dry, it’s still raining, only very, very small drops.”

Catching sight of a nun in a pub, Gilbert is just thrilled: “I love this country!” He’s open-faced and derpy, but he also takes a patient and thoughtful approach to the work: “Journalism isn’t just squeezing people for information, we’re here to build relationships.” Dove scoffs. She’s hard-bitten, stony-faced and nursing some childhood traumas that have made her perpetually suspicious of everyone. She doesn’t want to be here! Emmy is caught in the middle, between these two more seasoned investigators, and trying to keep the peace.

As they make the rounds, they run into plenty of resistance. “Let the past go,” someone implores. “It’s done nothing to you.” Tempers explode, corpses are found in the trunk of a car and money is stapled to a man’s forehead (don’t ask). But the mystery of who went missing, and why, is too shaggy, too convoluted and meandering, to make any kind of sense or keep you locked in. Mysteries should be complicated but not hard to follow.

I kept waiting for the series (from Jez Scharf, who is showrunner with Alex Metcalf) to find its narrative footing, but it lacks the kind of methodical unraveling needed to sustain interest. The cast of characters remain undeveloped beyond their surface-level tropes. There’s not even a sense of what this podcast will sound like.

“Bodkin” is the first scripted series from Higher Ground, the production company formed by Barack and Michelle Obama “to tell powerful stories that entertain.” It’s a piffle of a show and probably not what most audiences would expect a former two-term U.S. president to put his name and energy behind. Higher Ground doesn’t have to make more important-seeming or creatively substantial scripted fare, necessarily, but it does need to make good TV if it wants to be taken seriously.



2 stars (out of 4)

Rating: TV-MA

How to watch: Netflix