THE HORROR OF DOLORES ROACH Review: Tasty in Small Packages

Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas, US (@peteramartin)
THE HORROR OF DOLORES ROACH Review: Tasty in Small Packages

Mmm, what is in this empanada?

The Horror of Dolores Roach
The series premieres worldwide Friday, July 7, on Prime Video. I've seen all eight episodes.

Created by Aaron Mark, adapting his own podcast series, which debuted in 2018, The Horror of Dolores Roach is framed by a modern-day stage production that concludes to thunderous applause.

The Broadway show dramatizes the cannibalistic horrors attributed to its titular character, who shows up backstage to tell 'the real story' to the actress portraying her.

Released from prison after 16 years, Dolores Roach (Justina Machada, Six Feet Under, One Day at a Time) returns to her old neighborhood in New York City, where she was born and raised. Specifically, she returns to Washington Heights, on the upper west side of Manhattan, where I spent quite a bit of time in the early 1990s, and also the setting for Jon M. Chu's In the Heights (2021).

My personal experiences helped me relate to what happened to Dolores in the late 1990s, when she fell into a five-year relationship with Dominique, the neighborhood drug lord, and subsequently was sentenced to a lengthy prison term on drug-related charges. Emerging in 2019, she returns to find that Washington Heights has been gentrified into a far different neighborhood; the only familiar spot she finds is Empanada Loca, a shop now owned by old friend Luis (Alejandro Hernandez).

The first two episodes establish Dolores as a woman who languished in prison, confident that her one true love, Dominique, would wait for her, even though he never visited her during her 16 years of confinement. Frankly, that thought is impossible to buy completely, since Dolores is otherwise shown to be a strong woman who is entirely capable of taking matters into her own hands to ensure her own personal survival.

Putting that inconsistency aside, the show builds authentic empathy with Dolores' situation as a stranger in a strange land. (Daphne Rubin-Vega, who co-starred in the aforementioned In the Heights, is one of the writers.) Luis kindly provides a safe harbor for Dolores while she struggles to build a new life, and she makes several friends: Luis' sole employee, the immensely likable Nellie (Kita Updike); kindly delivery driver Jeremiah (K. Todd Freeman); and helpful business person Joy (Jean Yoon).

Landlord Gideon Pearlman (Marc Maron) is not so helpful, however, and he is but the first in a series of unlikable characters who keep intruding on the happy life that Dolores seeks to create for herself. Of course, the opening moments have already declared her to be a cannibalistic serial killer, so it's only a matter of time before a bloody trail of bodies begin piling up.

Before the profusion of blood and body parts completely swamp the show's gritty sense of humor, the human interest stories are captivating, powered by good writing and a very talented cast. In a nuanced performance, Justina Machado conveys a multitude of emotions simultaneously, weary and wary, savvy and sensible, kind and loving, yet prone to erupt into uncontrollable fury when the circumstances warrant.

On that point, Dolores Roach, as a character, possesses a great deal of rough charm, though, like most people, she has difficulty seeing herself as others do. As the narrator, she recounts her actions in a clear-eyed, logical fashion, or so it appears. Her actions and her justifications make sense to her, but may, in fact, not be reliable, throwing the entire series into a different light.

What 'really' happened? Only Dolores Roach can say for sure.

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Aaron MarkAlejandro HernandezJustina MachadoPrime Video

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