I love Edgar Allen Poe. My dad used to read us Poe's creepy short stories and poems with sound effects and dramatic flourishes - "The Raven," "The Tell-Tale Heart," "The Bells," "The Black Cat," "Annabelle Lee," "The Pit and the Pendulum" and "The Fall of the House of Usher," the latter of which is now streaming as an eight-part series on Netflix .
Plus, we lived a few miles away from the Poe Cottage in the Bronx.
It's unclear where the Netflix series is set though it does cover the lives of the Usher family from the '70s to the present. Poe wrote it in 1839. Roger Corman directed one of his classic B-movies based on the story in 1960. The series combines many of the stories and poems mentioned above with constant reference to cats, ravens, beating hearts and Annabelle Lee, who has a role in the series.
This new interpretation of the Usher story created by Mike Flanagan has a thoroughly modern theme: Lead character Roderick Usher (Bruce Greenwood) is a Big Pharma tycoon based on the Sackler family history already mined by Dopesick and PainKiller, also on Netflix. He presides over the Fortunato empire known best for their powerful painkiller, Ligodone. As the Fortunato board – comprised of Roderick, his twin sister Madeleine (Mary McDonnell) and various sons and daughters – spar for control of the company Succession style, Roderick recalls a series of tragedies suffered by the family to series narrator Augie Dupin (Carl Lumbly), who's been investigating Fortunato for years, at the dilapidated Usher manor.
The opioids subplot is painted in broad strokes. Like OxyContin, Ligodone is hyped as non-addictive, but requires increasingly higher doses to be effective, driving massive sales to the fast-growing Pharma firm.
The Ushers' story is told in flashbacks with different actors playing different eras. The heyday is the late '70s and early '80s when Rod (Zach Gilford), who created Ligodone while working for Fortunato but didn't get credit for it, is being groomed by head honcho Rufus Griswald (Michael Trucco) to take over. That doesn't work out so well for Griswald.
The original story is famous for Roderick's decision to kill Madeleine by entombng her in the basement. Here, Rod and Madeleine do the dirty work to the snarky lyrics of "Another Brick in the Wall."
The basic premise is a ghost named Verna (Carla Gugino) comes back to haunt the Ushers. She's the conscience of the series, its great avenger. The opioids subplot is painted in broad strokes. Like OxyContin, Ligodone is hyped as non-addictive, but requires increasingly higher doses to be effective, driving massive sales to the fast-growing Pharma firm.
One by one family members come to unusual ends, as confessed by Rod. Episode 2 sets the tone with a sex and drugs party hosted by Perry Usher (Sauriyan Sapkota) at one of Fortunato's defunct chemical plants that turns into an unmitigated disaster. Verna keeps showing up. She talks a lot, then kills people, like coke addict Frederick (Henry Thomas) in Episode 7. It's tiresome. But you keep watching to see the fall of the house of Usher. Oh, and it comes down, but not before we hear over and over about how evil the painkilling industry is.
As he swills amother drink, older Roderick breaks down the dilemma:
"A world without pain. I wave my magic wand. But it wasn't enough. It was never enough."
The deaths and damage caused by opioids are clear, but perhaps The Fall of the House of Usher will prove to be enough and we won't have to endure another series about this sorry subject.