The Horror of Dolores Roach Review 2023 Tv Show Series Cast Crew Online
The story of Sweeney Todd has been around since Victorian times, perhaps because it is as simple and adaptable as pastry and filling. Someone kills people. Someone else chops them up and puts them into pies. That template can be turned into visceral folk terror, broad black pantomime, or a complex piece on revenge, obsession and trauma. However in The Horror of Dolores Roach, it’s something a lot less interesting: one of those half-hour hangout dramedies about kooky New Yorkers that isn’t bad, but isn’t really about anything, the sort of binge-watch you don’t bother to finish.
Justina Machado is Dolores, who was once a weed dealer’s devoted other half in Washington Heights. She was at home on the day her boyfriend’s business got busted, took the rap – refusing to rat on her beloved – and dutifully served a 16-year prison sentence. Now on her return to the neighbourhood, she finds her old world has gone. Her hangouts have been replaced by chichi cafes and white trust-fund couples occupy the apartments where Dominican-Americans used to live. Some poser has even got a shih tzu in a pushchair.
Washington Heights has gone posh, the only surviving landmark of the good times being an empanada shop, which is struggling to survive and is run by Luis (Alejandro Hernandez), the former owner’s weird stoner son. Luis had a thing for Dolores when he was a teenager, so he takes her in and lets her work as a masseuse in the restaurant’s basement – a sanctuary that is threatened when the scuzzy landlord (Marc Maron) comes around demanding unaffordable rent. And so, Sweeney Todd comes to north Manhattan: Dolores tries to placate the building owner with a massage, but he gropes her during it, so she kills him. Luis turns the corpse meat into “secret recipe” empanadas, which become a viral culinary sensation that survives beyond the consumption of the landlord himself, because when numerous other people either annoy Dolores or look as if they’re on to her, she murders them as well.
These are outlandish developments that will take some deft scripting to sell to the audience, you might think, but The Horror of Dolores Roach recognises no such constraints. Stuff just happens. The gap between Luis the woozy cannabis appreciator and Luis the cannibal butcher who enthusiastically dismembers, minces and deep-fries humans is never bridged. Nor is there a fix for the disconnect between Dolores the anxious trier who vows never to return to prison and vomits at the sight of flesh-filled empanadas and Dolores the serial killer who ends you if you mildly inconvenience her.
Cannibalism as a reaction to, or a representation of, urban gentrification is a big conceptual cheque to be writing, but beyond the quick run-down of signifiers that greet Dolores on her return to her old stomping ground in episode one, the idea is barely explored. Most of her victims don’t have anything to do with it, and even the greedy landlord is, until he gets handsy, the sort of enticing stubble-and-fags shambles that casting Maron all but guarantees. The series’ skewering of a culturally whitewashed 2020s Manhattan doesn’t reach further than a supporting character who does an annoying podcast. (The Horror of Dolores Roach was itself previously a drama podcast, and before that a stage monologue – a production of the theatrical version features here as a bookending/flashforward device, with the “real” Dolores confronting the thespian playing her to lament the play’s errors. What purpose this serves is unclear.)
Dolores is poor, female, Latina, a victim of the justice system and the rentier/renter divide – all those things could fire up a modern Sweeney but, with so many flavours to choose from, the show hardly even nibbles at them. There’s gore, but little horror: one horrible shot of hanging, half-butchered limbs jars against the rest of a series that couches its killing in goofy pratfall wrestling. When Cyndi Lauper turns up as a sassy, endlessly curious private investigator (uh oh!) with a silver bob and oversized specs, a parlour-game vibe develops that’s not far from Only Murders in the Building – albeit without any mystery, since it’s soon obvious that anyone who vaguely constitutes an antagonist will wind up dead. Each slaughter is like a chore being ticked off.
It’s not that there is nothing to enjoy here: the leads make the most of their uneven characters, with Machado in particular so charismatic that you can see the canny, raging avenger that Dolores should have been, instead of the naive whinger she has bafflingly been written as. The neighbourhood is also populated by gentle eccentrics it’s nice to spend time with. But any Sweeney Todd retelling turns on the question of why the killer kills. The Horror of Dolores Roach never works that out, so it’s left aimlessly sliding around in its own sloppy mess.