Stories about murder aren’t that hard to find on television.
Whether you get your TV via streaming, cable, or jerry-rigging a digital antenna, the medium is filled with tales of killers and the people they kill. This is not a new trend as the act of taking a life has understandably captivated human beings for as long as there have been human beings. The only difference in the modern TV era is the sheer scale of our true crime fascination.
With this new onslaught of murder content leading to a landscape of desensitized viewers, TV shows have sought out particularly unique angles to depict homicide. Some of these angles are more successful than others, but it’s hard to remember a recent one less effective than Netflix’s new docuseries Worst Roommate Ever.
Worst Roommate Ever is a creative, promising title that immediately gives way to a boring morass of standard true crime sludge. All of the “worst roommates ever” presented in the series ultimately commit murder, which kind of supersedes their qualities as bad roommates. And that’s a shame. For, as previously stated, television already has plenty of murderers. What it doesn’t have are stories about the surreal phenomenon of sharing one’s living space with a stranger and having to build a relationship from nothing…and the terror that can follow when someone abuses that relationship.
That’s a novel concept worth examining, and a timely one, given the rising cost of housing in the United States and other Western countries. Instead, Worst Roommate Ever opts for the easy way out and hopes that by the time viewers’ have realized they’re getting replacement-level true crime slop, it’s too late to pick something else.
This Blumhouse-produced Netflix series features four stories spread out over five episodes. The murderous subjects of each episode are as follows:
- Episode 1 – Dorothea Puente
- Episode 2 – K.C. Joy
- Episode 3 – Yhoussef Khater
- Episodes 4 and 5 – Jamison Bachman
Of the four killers introduced, only two (Joy and Bachman) fit the definition of what most people would understand to be a “roommate.” Puente is a faux-philanthropic landlord and Khater is a hostel guest in Chile. Additionally, the two-part Bachman story is the only one that delves into the bizarre horror of an unwanted roommate invading one’s living space, with Bachman continually abusing the legal system to gain squatters’ rights in innocent people’s homes and making their environment a living hell.
The fact that Bachman receives two episodes while his three fellow killers receive only one is probably because his story was the show’s target in the first place. The Bachman saga is based on a New York Magazine article called “Worst Roommate Ever.” It’s unclear why the other three were added to begin with, but this certainly wouldn’t be the first time someone adapted a documentary concept into a docuseries because the Netflix algorithm demanded it.
The stories themselves are all given relatively shallow treatment. The show forgoes the use of any Dateline-style narration or descriptive text and instead relies solely on onscreen interviews, ominous music, and crude animation (like the screengrab used to accompany this article). Narration certainly isn’t mandatory in true crime documentaries but the stories the show wants to tell here are too big and winding to be entrusted to a handful of interviewees telling their side of the stories from separate rooms. The Khater story in particular is quite confusing with the show doling out details in a non-chronological timeline.
Worst Roommate Ever is true crime executed poorly. If it were only that, it might not be worth commenting much on. It’s also, however, an unfulfilled promise. It may seem unfair to get this hung up about any given show’s title. Names aren’t sacred in the entertainment industry. Properties often get tagged with the moniker that will deliver them the most attention and their production company the most profits. It’s just that the title of “Worst Roommate Ever” is such a flagrant instance of mis-branding that it’s hard not to be at least a little annoyed. The ironic tone of the title is also not in good taste. The crimes presented here are grisly and leave behind a trail of human wreckage in their wake.
Roger Ebert argued that a critic should judge a piece of art on what it’s trying to be rather than what you want it to be. It would be unfair to pan the Fast and the Furious franchise for not adequately delving into the exquisite agony of human consciousness. That is an entirely fair approach but Worst Roommate Ever violates this unspoken pact between critic and product by suggesting it wants to be one thing when, in reality, it’s something else entirely.