There are cozy murder shows, like Disney+’s Only Murders In the Buiding, and then there are murder shows like Black Bird. Black Bird, which premieres this week on Apple TV+, is about the quest to obtain a confession from a serial killer named Larry Hall (Paul Walter Hauser), who brutally murdered at least fourteen women. The hero? Well, he’s more of an anti-hero. Rather than an adorably bumbling Steve Martin or a cute Selena Gomez, we get Jimmy Keen (Taron Egerton), a big-time drug dealer who agrees to befriend the killer in prison and extract a confession in exchange for his freedom.
Taron Egerton cemented his status as a star playing Elton John in Rocket Man. In Black Bird, we see an equally charming but much grittier version of the performer. Jimmy is pathologically charming, the kind of effortlessly cool person people do anything to befriend. For this reason, the FBI decides Larry might spill his guts to Jimmy in exchange for his approval. For his part, Jimmy is only a few months into a 10-year prison sentence, making him desperate enough to get close to an alleged serial killer for a chance at freedom. Of course, the mission won’t be easy: when he asks his FBI contact what to do if he needs to defend himself, she simply responds, “Don’t get caught.”
The stakes of Black Bird are high. If Jimmy doesn’t get the confession, Larry will be set free on appeal. But is that such a bad thing? From the beginning, Black Bird introduces the possibility that Larry might not be guilty. Thanks to Hauser’s layered performance as a town misfit, you wonder if Larry has the misfortune of being an innocent guy who simply looks the way we assume guilty people look. Did a bully detective (Greg Kinnear) confuse Larry into confessing to crimes he didn’t commit? That question is the show’s central mystery, and it’s a good one.
Unfortunately, not everything about Black Bird is as compelling as its central mystery. While it’s a series ostensibly about the issue of violence against women, its victims are mostly reduced to eery flashbacks of young girls riding bikes. The characters the series seems most intent on developing are all men. Egerton is compelling – and entertaining – as the swaggering Jimmy. However, Greg Kinnear also gets ample screen time despite his low-energy performance. One gets the sense Kinnear’s a little bored, even when his character is supposed to be interrogating a man he claims murdered 14 women. Actress Sepideh Moafi does her best as the female investigator who tasks Jimmy with extracting a confession from the man she believes is a serial killer; however, the script makes her a brassy, two-dimensional parody of a tough-talking female cop.
Ultimately, Black Bird isn’t the sort of show you cozy up with over a cup of tea. Everything from its moody score to its ominous cinematography is terrifying. Having said that, if you’re looking for creepy, grisly content that gives you a genuine scare, Black Bird might be for you. However, if you’re in the market for a murder show that makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside, try re-watching classic Miss Marple instead….