Black Bird is the new Apple TV+ series following an inmate having to befriend a serial killer – but its stellar performances and exploration of masculinity are what make this series unmissable.
Warning: this article contains minor spoilers for the first two episodes of Apple TV+’s Black Bird.
Almost as soon as the first episode of Black Bird starts, you get a sense of the kind of charm and masculinity that courses through this series. Former high school football star turned drug dealer, Jimmy Keene (Taron Egerton) is literally living life in the fast lane – he drives expensive cars, has a gorgeous mansion, keeps AK-47s and other weaponry in his home.
We see him go and meet with a business associate, an affair that seems ominous from the start. It quickly turns into a scene of gun-wielding, betrayal and trying to not get Jimmy’s best friend killed in the process. And that’s all in the first 15 minutes of the series.
The tension of that initial scene weaves its way through the first episodes of Black Bird but also, more surprisingly, the series manages to confront our ideas around masculinity. It’s clever and will keep you hooked. The series comes from acclaimed crime writer Dennis Lehane (who also penned The Wire and Boardwalk Empire), and is based on James Keene’s 2010 memoir In With The Devil.
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Jimmy is clever, charismatic and very, very charming. His house gets raided as he stands topless, making a smoothie with his one-night stand laying on the sofa. He goes to prison, the son of a former police officer, thinking that he won’t serve any major time at all. That’s what his father Big Jim (Ray Liotta) explains to him and as he confronts the idea that maybe he’ll have to spend a few years in prison, before the judge orders him to be sentenced to a decade behind bars instead.
Even in prison, Jimmy thrives. He gets on well with the people he needs to, exercises to fill the time, keeps to himself. It’s only when the FBI – specifically the indomitable Lauren McCauley (Sepideh Moafi) – come knocking on his door that the idea of freedom starts to make him antsy. Their offer is a tempting one but in return, he has to give up his freedom and befriend serial killer Larry Hall (Paul Walter Hauser). His newfound mission is to get details on the murders and burials before Hall’s appeal goes forward and he is released.
The slow burn of the series means that we see Jimmy mull over the decision, not reaching it until well into episode two, where he has to be transported to “hell”, the maximum-security Springfield prison for the criminally insane.
The thing that this drama does well, setting it apart from the plethora of true crime wave, is to utilise flashbacks to give us a real sense of the chilling cruelty inflicted upon Hall’s victims – young girls, chased, scared, murdered.
When we first meet Hall, he’s as far from a ‘typical serial killer’ type we imagine. He’s softly spoken and shy but possesses a dark side. Police officers, because of Hall’s demeanour, brush off his confessions about “dreams of murdering girls” because he appears “weird but harmless” and apparently, likes to confess to crimes he hasn’t committed.
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It’s only when Detective Brian Miller (Greg Kinnear) gets involved that these other officers start to take note of the evidence that’s been hiding under their noses. Hall dotes on this idea of being perceived as mild-mannered and non-threatening but it’s when he speaks to Miller that his true colours start to show.
Like the officers in the series, the viewer is left to reflect on their own ideas around dangerous and deadly men showing there is no one-size-fits-all box for serial killers, rapists and misogynists. It’s this exploration of masculine ideals that sets Black Bird apart.
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While Jimmy’s moral dilemmas and Hall’s shocking murders are at the heart of this series, so too are the father-son dynamics of Jimmy and Big Jim. In what is one of the last roles Ray Liotta took on before his death earlier this year, it’s a fittingly emotional end to a long career.
Here, he’s not just the hard-faced father but is also one who is deeply saddened by his inability to help his son in times of need. He later suffers a fatal stroke and even though he’s had to endure temporary blindness, an inability to walk, talk or move around without the help of his wife, he refuses to let Jimmy know about any of it when he calls him from prison. In those moments of quiet dialogue between the pair that Black Bird delivers well-thought-out, perfectly executed dialogue and moving performances.
While we may be overwhelmed with the true crime content at the moment – we’ve just had The Staircase, Girl In The Picture, My Daughter’s Killer, The Girl From Plainville to name a few – Black Bird is up there with some of the most exciting of the year. And the internet certainly seems to agree, with mainly hailing it as one of the best series they’ve seen.
We’re excited to see Egerton back on our screens after his performance in Rocketman but, like any true crime content, it’s worth remembering it’s based on a true story.
And, you know, if Chris Hemsworth is watching it then you really should too.
Episode three of Black Bird is now available to stream on Apple TV+, with episodes dropping weekly every Friday.
Images: Apple TV+
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