Since The Current War was vamoosed from award season because of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, it’s been a relatively quiet time for Benedict Cumberbatch. He had that cameo in Thor: Ragnarok, but even with the (allegedly) final episodes of Sherlock airing in early 2017, it felt like a light year for The Batch, in that he wasn’t in every third movie. Well never fear, Cumbercubes, because 2018 is Batch-heavy. There’s Avengers: Infinity War, of course—where I expect Doctor Strange to get some plum bits with Tony Stark, further propelling him up the fan-favorite ladder—and Andy Serkis’s Jungle Book is due in the fall. But the real centerpiece of Cumberbatch’s year is Patrick Melrose, the splashy five-part adaptation of Edward St. Aubyn’s novels airing on Showtime. The first trailer was released over the weekend and it looks like primo prestige drama, the Emmy equivalent of award bait.
This isn’t just an acting project for Cumberbatch, he’s also got an executive producer credit on the series. We just saw the reward reaped by Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman when they got together to make their own work—can Benedict Cumerbatch do the same for himself? Maybe. Patrick Melrose certainly makes for a handsome trailer, that is a STACKED cast, and it looks like a great showcase for Cumberbatch to do more than just be a hyperactive super-genius. But though there is less obvious nihilism, the “dissipated, depressed rich white guy” thing checks all of the Bret Easton Ellis boxes, and I KNOW the St. Aubyn books are not like Ellis’s, but Bret Easton Ellis has pretty much ruined “dissipated, depressed rich white guys” for everyone. I’m on the fence of “willing to watch Benedict Cumberbatch do anything” and “super tired of stories about dissipated, depressed rich white guys”.
But we’ll see. Patrick Melrose is indicative of the type of work Cumberbatch wants to do, now that he’s a more established star—and has the Marvel safety net to catch him should a project not work out—and at the very least, it displays quality taste on his part. He got a little juice and immediately went for high-class literary adaptation as a prestige drama. That’s paid dividends to his female peers, but a show like Big Little Lies also benefitted from being part of a larger moment, and a bigger conversation about women, work, and abuse. Patrick Melrose looks good, but in the age of Peak TV, “good” is literally every other show on air. The question is if it’s good enough to create a conversation.