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Thursday, September 16, 2021

The True-Crime Series On Netflix That Is Captivating Millions

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Released on April 2 on Netflix
, the true-crime thriller The Serpent is capturing viewers’ attention around the world. The series remained within the Netflix’s Top 10 all week, standing at the top of Netflix’s Top 10 in countries including the U.S., Canada, Australia, Denmark and Belgium on April 9. The series already broke viewing records in the U.K. when it first aired in January 2021 on the BBC.   

It would be easy to conclude that the success of the series, in terms of viewing numbers, shows our fascination for true crime stories. But what truly makes this series so gripping is both its incredible ensemble cast — especially the unrecognizable Tahar Rahim as Charles Sobhraj, Jenna Coleman, Billy Howle and Ellie Bamber — and a nail-biting script and direction.

If you’ve not yet watched the eight-part limited series, The Serpent is inspired by real events that took place in the 1970s on the South East Asian “hippie trail.” Charles Sobhraj, a French man who posed as a gem dealer, carried out a spree of crimes targetting mainly backpackers, swindling and eventually murdering his victims for their money, aided by his accomplices, his girlfriend Marie-Andrée Leclerc and Ajay Chowdhury. The Serpent tells the story of how a determined young diplomat at the Dutch Embassy Herman Knippenberg and his wife Angela attempted to bring to justice Sobhraj and his accomplices. Using a very confusing back-and-forth timeline, the eight-part limited series crescendos after its initial episodes into a really tense and suspenseful thriller.

Commissioned by BBC One, the series was created by Mammoth Screen, part of ITV Studios, and is a co-production between BBC One and Netflix. The Serpent first aired exclusively in the U.K. from New Year’s Day on BBC One. When the eight-part drama concluded in mid-February, The Serpent became the BBC iPlayer’s most popular new BBC program, with 31 million streams at that point, overtaking the record set by the limited series Normal People in Spring 2020. The first episode of The Serpent received a 30-day consolidated figure of 9 million viewers across all-screens (including linear viewing), the highest figure for a new BBC title (in comparison, Normal People had over 5.5 million streams on the BBC iPlayer). The second episode of The Serpent reached 7.4 million viewers by mid-February, according to the BBC.

Netflix has not announced any viewing figures, but judging on how well the series is doing across the globe, being in the Netflix Top 10 in most countries since its release a week ago, it is one of the most-watched shows this April so far, with Mexican series Quién Mató a Sara? (Who Killed Sara?) far ahead, according to FlixPatrol.

But what makes The Serpent so popular? For Director of BBC Drama, Piers Wenger, the exceptional figures for The Serpent reached on the BBC iPlayer in the U.K. “are a testament to the power of telling the lesser-known, human side of a real-life story, and an exceptional creative team.”

Many reviewers and viewers have noted the frustratingly confusing back-and-forth timeline and the off-putting repetitive images and sounds of people vomiting. However, after initial episodes establishing the personality and the serial crimes perpetuated by Sobhraj and his accomplices, the series takes a sudden turn. With brilliant editing and direction, the series becomes a real nail-biting suspense, a tense cat-and-mouse chase between Sobhraj and Knippenberg.

This is where the series truly stands out, and makes one wonder whether the true leading character of this story is in fact Herman Knippenberg. The series creates this duality opposing Charles Sobhraj and Marie-Andrée Leclerc with Herman Knippenberg and his wife Angela. The series never falls into the trap of glorifying the serial murderer. It shows the type of charisma Sobhraj had to seduce so many into trusting him, but the series quickly reveals the flipside to his sinister character. As viewers, we want to see Knippenberg succeed in getting Sobhraj caught. This is achieved through a clever script, based on research and interviews of those who lived through this.

The Serpent, although starting as a slow-burning thriller, turns out to be a nail-biting cat-and-mouse chase with some intense anxiety-induced moments. In the U.K., it became one of the most viewed new series on the BBC.

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