Netflix is ramping up its marketing for Wormwood, yet another original series premiering in December. This time, the series comes with a significant amount of expectation, as it brings the acclaimed Errol Morris into the Netflix family with a six-part series that blends documentary filmmaking with fictionalized accounts of the CIA’s experiments with LSD and mind control in the MK-Ultra program that ultimately led to the death of a man named Frank Olson.
The series aims to blend Morris’ usual interview style of filmmaking, as seen in films like the Academy Award-winning The Fog of War, as well as The Thin Blue Line, Tabloid, and Gates of Heaven, with a stylish recreation of the events that led to Olson’s death. The series is an investigation into the circumstances of a death that was ruled a suicide, though, as Olson’s son alleges, may have been murder. But it is also an inquiry into the experiments themselves and potentially the abuse of power within the CIA.
While the story of Frank Olson, the investigation into his untimely death, and, certainly, the MK-Ultra program would make for a compelling documentary all on its own, Wormwood aims to bring something extra to the table with a fictionalized recreation of the events, effectively blending two genres into a six-part miniseries. That miniseries stars Peter Sarsgaard as Olson, but also includes, Tim Blake Nelson (Minority Report), Molly Parker (House of Cards), Bob Balaban (Seinfeld), and Christian Camargo (The Hurt Locker), presumably as various members of the CIA and MK-Ultra project.
The idea alone is enough to pique the interest of any documentary and true-crime fan, especially those who are fond of Morris’ past films and his interview style. But it’s also a fascinating way to change up the formula of the serialized documentary, especially after the success of Making a Murderer in 2015 and this year’s pitch-perfect spoof of that and similar projects with Netflix’s own American Vandal. If anything, the genre blending may attract viewers not typically drawn to documentary filmmaking, while also demonstrating Morris’ ability to innovate and alter his approach despite the decades of success he’s had.
There may be some concern that Wormwood will just turn out to be a more expensive version of Unsolved Mysteries, complete with better production values in lieu of Robert Stack. All joking aside, this series stands a good chance of succeeding in the tricky business of making dramatic recreations more than just a supplement to the documentary portion of the program. With the added muscle of Morris and the series’ impressive cast behind it, Wormwood appears like a worthy binge-watch before the holidays.
Wormwood premieres on Friday, December 15 on Netflix.