‘The Horror of Dolores Roach,’ an oddly-paced Sweeney Todd knockoff on Amazon
Cannibalism is having a moment. There’s Yellowjackets, Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, and now, streaming on Amazon, there’s The Horror of Dolores Roach. Though it’s a show deeply inspired by the most classic cannibal of them all, Sweeney Todd, it’s unlikely that people will remember it as fondly.
Dolores, as portrayed by the ever-fantastic Justine Machado, is fresh out of prison after serving sixteen years for a crime she didn’t commit. All she wants is get back to Washington Heights to find her former boyfriend Dominic, the man she took the fall for, and make up for lost time. Instead, she finds herself in a gentrified neighborhood that didn’t miss her at all. Disheartened, she doesn’t know where to turn, until she discovers her old hangout Empanada Loco still exists. An old friend, the simple-minded Luis (Alejandro Hernandez), runs it. He offers her a room in his apartment under the shop.
Times are tough, and Dolores has no practical skills or job training, but in prison, she happened to bunk with a woman who taught her the art of massage. Before long, Dolores buys a few candles and opens a makeshift parlor in her bedroom to generate some income to help the hapless Luis catch up on his back rent. Her efforts fail to please the demanding, elitist landlord (Marc Maron), so in a moment of impulsive fury, she kills him. Luis eagerly offers to take care of the situation, and the next day, his special muy loco empanadas have all the hungry, hungry hipsters lined up around the block. Cue the Sondheim.
The biggest horror here, though, is the show’s pacing. Each of the eight episodes clocks in at just under half an hour, which doesn’t properly allow emotions to build or characters to develop, which creates a herky-jerky viewing experience. There’s also a weird narrative setup involving an actress playing Dolores onstage who must hear the real story from the murderess herself. This clunky framework feels like an afterthought that they jammed into the narrative to explain Dolores’s unnecessary barrage of inane voiceovers, which in turn feel like the show added them because no one trusted the audience to follow the absurdly simple story.
It’s a shame, because Machado and her supporting cast do their best to make a full meal out of the production’s feeble scraps. And, talent-wise, this series is totally stacked. Judy Reyes brings life and energy that burns too fast. Cyndi Lauper pops in and back out again before we can truly appreciate her. Kita Updike anchors the show, and commands attention every second she’s onscreen. Yet, ultimately, the show has such a scrambled and frenetic pace, it never gives a moment to actually connect and care.
It’s a shame, because The Horror of Dolores Roach clearly wants to make a point about the nightmare of modern life—housing that costs too much, the struggle of the small business owner, the injustices of the legal system and the lack of dignity afforded to returning citizens—but that’s a big meal for such a slight show. Instead of making us root for the underdog, it clunkily zips along from one event to the next with nary a breather. Possibly this was a deliberate choice to convey how it feels to be a cog in the relentless churn of the system, but The Horror’s ham-fisted inelegance makes it hard to be certain.
Yes, Dolores deserved better, but so do the viewers.