Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story is the second re-telling of the life and crimes of the serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer that’s come out in the last five years alone, and the third take on his story in the past two decades. In 2017, Ross Lynch starred in the titular role My Friend Dahmer; 20 years ago, Jeremy Renner played him on the big screen. In Monster, the Dahmer’s story is told yet again in the form of a limited series on Netflix created by Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan, with Evan Peters as its star.
The show, which has become one of Netflix’s biggest success stories, follows Dahmer’s, from his pursuits of the young men he killed—17 in total—to his eventual arrest and prosecution. The limited series comes at a moment when demand for true crime media is at an all-time high, from countless true-crime docs to comedies like Only Murders in the Building, which skewers the culture obsession over true crime.
Monster has become one of the streamer’s most-watched series since debuting on Sept. 23 and criticism over the show has grown as quickly as its popularity. Critics have questioned the need to revisit the story of a serial killer who targeted young men who were primarily Black and brown. Much of the discussion has focused on the way in which systemic racism allowed Dahmer to continue killing men. Some family members of the victims of Dahmer have also spoken out against the series, saying it has retraumatized them. The series also came under fire after Netflix tagged it as “LGBTQ” content (as drama over this choice arose on TikTok, Netflix quickly removed the label).
Outrage is hardly a new phenomenon online, but the rollout of Murphy’s new limited series has caused the show to be one of the most controversial series released in recent years. Here’s what to know about the show and its reception.
How Monster has been received
Critics gave the show mixed reviews. Variety and Vanity Fair were more negative in their reviews, while Vulture, along with The Hollywood Reporter, gave it a more favorable assessment. Overall, the show is currently rated at 45/100 on Metacritic. Reviews aside, it quickly became popular: according to Netflix’s Weekly Top 10 report, Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story topped the English TV List for two weeks straight with just shy of 300 million hours viewed. In its first week it was in the streamer’s Top 10 in 92 countries. This makes it second only to Stranger Things 4 when it comes to viewership of an English-language series in a single week.
How the families of the victims have responded
The show was subjected to criticism almost immediately after its release. Most prominent among its detractors is Rita Isbell, the sister to Errol Lindsey, who was one of Dahmer’s victims. Isbell also gave an emotionally-charged victim impact statement at the killer’s 1992 sentencing. She wrote a personal essay for Insider, in which she detailed that she watched part of the show and was “bothered.” Isbell’s statement was recreated to add dramatic effect to the show, and she was played by actor DaShawn Barnes.
She wrote, “I was never contacted about the show. I feel like Netflix should’ve asked if we mind or how we felt about making it. They didn’t ask me anything. They just did it.” Isbell added, “But I’m not money hungry, and that’s what this show is about, Netflix trying to get paid.”
Her cousin Eric Perry spoke out against the show on Twitter in a viral tweet that reads: “I’m not telling anyone what to watch, I know true crime media is huge rn, but if you’re actually curious about the victims, my family (the Isbell’s) are pissed about this show.” He continues, “It’s retraumatizing over and over again, and for what? How many movies/shows/documentaries do we need?”
In a promotional video for Monster, Peters said the series attempts to highlight the stories of the victims of Dahmer. “It’s called The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, but it’s not just him and his backstory: It’s the repercussions, it’s how society and our system failed to stop him multiple times because of racism, homophobia,” Peters said. “It’s just a tragic story.”
The debate surrounding how and when to tell tragic stories will continue. But Isbell’s words are a reminder that these stories are so much more than TV shows—real people are affected by such projects. “It brought back all the emotions I was feeling back then,” she said.
Criticism over Netflix’s LGBTQ representation category
Controversy also grew over the ways Netflix labeled the show on its page. Monster was labeled “Horror,” “Ominous,” “Dark,” “Vintage crime,” “Psychological,” and “LGBTQ.” More lighthearted shows like Heartstopper, Sex Education, and AJ and the Queen are the types of series that usually get filed under the “LGBTQ” tag so it came as a shock to many Netflix users to see a show that highlights the brutal murders of queer men being touted as an “LGBTQ” show. “Why the f-ck did Netflix tag the Jeffrey Dahmer documentary, LGBTQ?” one person asked in a viral TikTok video. “I know it’s technically true, but this is not the representation we’re looking for.”
“If I need to stay in my lane absolutely tell me but anyone else think it’s pretty gross of @netflix to list Dahmer under #LGBTQ, especially when the True Crime tag would have worked?,” writer Frances Danger tweeted. Another person tweeted, “Hey hi @netflix I IMPLORE you please reconsider having Dahmer with the LGBTQ tag, especially as one of its tags right when you open the app.”
The tag was later removed with no official comment from Netflix. It’s unclear exactly when the streamer removed the tag.
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