“The Watcher”: A Series Where the Truth Just Might be as Strange as Fiction


Netflix’s ‘The Watcher’ Premiered on October 13. Photo Courtesy of IMDb.

Ava DePasquale, Staff Writer, Social Media Manager

Rating: 2.5/5 Falcons 


Netflix has given us another series to binge this spooky season. The Watcher, created by Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan, premiered on October 13. It follows Murphy’s successful true crime drama about Jeffrey Dahmer, which held number one on Netflix for some time in September.  


“The Watcher” is Murphy’s second true-crime drama to hit Netflix this fall. Light on the true crime and heavy on the drama, this psychological thriller, limited series is loosely based on true events. The series is inspired by the story of Maria and Derek Broaddus, whose in-depth story was told by Reeves Wiedeman, a reporter for New York Magazine’s “The Cut.” The couple purchased 657 Boulevard in Westfield, New Jersey in 2014 but never fully moved in with their three children once they started receiving the watcher’s disturbing letters, which triggered a years-long nightmare for the family. If there’s one parallel that can be drawn between reality and the Netflix series, it’s the tormenting lack of closure, but the letters are pretty much where the series makes a departure from the real story. Murphy explores themes that have been plaguing society as of late, such as the insane housing market, wacky conspiracies, cancel culture, and just to appeal to our obsession with serial killers, a little bit of true crime murder for good measure.


“The Watcher” centers on an excessively beige family, the Brannocks, who immediately fall in love with the stunningly portrayed 657 Boulevard, to which the real house pales in comparison. From the Brannock’s wardrobe to their silver Prius and the home’s neutral interior, the aesthetic is very minimalist. The first few scenes take place during the open house, and even though Evan Peters is nowhere to be seen in this one, almost immediately, it’s giving American Horror Story. While the unsuspecting family’s excitement is palpable, we still get that classic “AHS” vibe, that tells us things are about to get weird, and boy, do they. Dean and Nora, fittingly portrayed by Bobby Cannavale and Naomi Watts, foolishly cash in on their entire life savings, retirement, and stocks in order to afford the house. Actually, we’ll give Dean all the credit for that one. Once they secure the house, things escalate quickly for the happy family as they find out just how strange their neighbors are and start receiving the watcher’s letters, which are almost word-for-word, the same as the letters the Broadduses had received.  


Murphy and Brennan quickly veer off the tracks as the ridiculous twists start and just don’t stop; the suspense is there, and it hardly gives the viewer time to breathe. There is dead-end lead after dead-end lead, and just when it seems like things can’t get any more ridiculous, some QAnon conspiracy and child sacrifice are sprinkled in there, complete with talk of adrenochrome and “blood cults.” A scene depicting a baby mid-sacrifice on an altar surrounded by neighbors shrouded in red robes is some of the only gore you’ll find here. The nod to these bizarre conspiracies just push the credulity right over the edge on this series. It may be the fatigue of living through QAnon conspiracies of the last couple of years, but seeing homage to it in a series supposedly based on true events had me rolling my eyes.


Life for the Brannocks quickly spirals. There are several public accusations, two murdered pets, and some creepy, breathy phone calls that, in classic horror fashion, actually come from inside the house. Some of the families suffering are self-induced when Brannock’s daughter accuses Dean of racism on social media, which lends to the show’s portrayal of cancel culture. Dean nearly loses his job, Nora is suspended from the country club and the Brannocks are told on several occasions that they will never belong in this community. 


The writers take the liberty of inserting a character meant to portray John List, who was a real-life family annihilator from Westfield, New Jersey. In 1971, List murdered his mother, wife and children in their home before disappearing himself, but this story had nothing to do with the Braudduses, something that true crime fans will already know. Our annihilator in the series is portrayed by Joe Mantello, who is also in the latest season of Murphy’s “American Horror Story.” Here, as John Graff who is supposedly living in a tunnel beneath 657 Boulevard, the alleged house where the gruesome murders took place. This little snippet of true crime dramatization is probably closer to the truth than the rest of the series but is oddly transplanted into what is already a wild goose chase of a series. 


If you’re looking for a neat, satisfying little ending, this may not be the series for you, and indeed, the Broadduses never got the closure they were looking for either. While what happened to the Braudduses was strange and disturbing, it certainly wasn’t a Netflix series worth of horror. With a fantastic cast and unbound imaginations, Murphy and Brennan certainly made something out of the New Jersey family’s experience. Maybe the real horror story here lies in the issues that have sprung out of the Covid era, that Murphy has spun into this odd little tale. If you sit down to watch this series and find yourself thinking at each twist and turn that things just couldn’t get more absurd, well, you might just want to look at the world around you.