Netflix's Painkiller Release Date, Cast, Trailer, Plot And More Details

Plans for the Netflix series "Painkiller" have been in the works for some time, with initial announcements for its cast going back to July 2021. Little more has been publicly known, past the usual dribs and drabs of information about various personnel, the series' focus on the opioid addiction crisis, and its interest in examining the role of Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family. Now, we know that it's going to be a penetrating look at the rise of the Sackler family on the back of addictive drugs — and the people who helped take them down.

This won't be the first time that the opioid crisis — and the Sacklers' role in it — has received the dramatic series treatment. Hulu released the eight-episode series "Dopesick" in 2021, which also includes Sackler patriarch Richard as a character, played by Michael Stuhlbarg. His performance gained him an Emmy nomination. Michael Keaton, meanwhile, won an Emmy for his portrayal of the fictionalized Dr. Sam Fennix, a doctor in a small Virginia mining town whose investigations of his patients put him on a collision course with Purdue and the Sacklers. There is also the 2022 Oscar-nominated documentary "All the Beauty and the Bloodshed," which followed the work of photographer and activist Nan Goldin and the downfall of the Sacklers. 

You might think there's no ground left to cover, in light of these projects. But "Painkiller" seems likely to prove this assumption wrong. We're here to take a look at everything we know about this eye-opening production, including its release date, season length, and other significant info. 

When will Painkiller be released?

According to Netflix, "Painkiller" will premiere on August 10, with all six one-hour episodes available to watch. This puts it alongside other August releases on the streamer, including the Gal Gadot action-spy vehicle "Heart of Stone" and Season 1 of the live-action adaptation of beloved anime pirate tale "One Piece." 

Naturally, given that "Painkiller" is being billed as a miniseries — and given that the source material is, for the time being anyway, relatively finite — there are no plans for a second season. Whether six hours is enough to tell this full, sordid episode is impossible to tell at this point. Hulu's "Dopesick" — which was also based on the book by journalist Beth Macy and includes several fictionalized characters — tells its story in eight episodes. 

This will not be Netflix's first foray into the devastation and criminality of the opioid epidemic, though it is its first attempt to do so through scripted content. Netflix funded the 2017 Oscar-nominated short doc "Heroin(e)," which zooms in on an emergency worker, a judge, and a religious missionary attempting to respond to the crisis in West Virginia. The streamer's 2020 docuseries "The Pharmacist" also looks at the epidemic through the eyes of a New Orleans father whose son was murdered during a drug deal gone wrong. 

What is the plot of Painkiller?

Tackling the opioid crisis can be done in a lot of different ways. "Painkiller" is taking a deeply human and historical approach, though certain liberties are taken with the story. "A fictionalized retelling of events," Netflix put it in a press release, "'Painkiller' is a scripted limited series that explores some of the origins and aftermath of the opioid crisis in America, highlighting the stories of the perpetrators, victims, and truth-seekers whose lives are forever altered by the invention of OxyContin." Executive producer Eric Newman revealed another interesting detail of the series' approach to Tudum: "We wanted to mirror the effects of opioids," he noted, "the warmth and the hope and the relief of taking a pill that's going to deliver you from your suffering and then watching it become suffering."

Though semi-fictionalized, "Painkiller" will zoom in on the lives of key members of the Sackler family, and the pivotal role their dynasty played in funding the development and popularization of the drug by the pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma. It will also follow Edie Flowers, a fictional investigator looking to expose the truth about the family's crimes. Intriguingly, "Painkiller" is poised to explore a new facet of the epidemic through these vivid characters: The introduction of these drugs into the world of mainstream medicine. Sinister boardroom meetings and clandestine interviews will be showcased here, but so will rallies led by chipper sales representatives who claim these drugs are safe and dependable.  Two non-fiction sources serve as the basis for the series' plot: the book "Pain Killer: A Wonder Drug's Trail of Addiction and Death" by former New York Times reporter Barry Meier, and Patrick Radden Keefe's long-form 2017 article for The New Yorker, "The Family That Built the Empire of Pain." Radden Keefe is serving as an executive producer, while Meier is listed as a consulting producer.

Who is starring in Painkiller?

The two most recognized names attached to the cast of "Painkiller" are Emmy Award winner Uzo Aduba — probably best-known from her time as Suzanne "Crazy Eyes" Warren in "Orange Is the New Black" — and Matthew Broderick. Broderick was a very deliberate casting choice; as director Pete Berg put it, "There's an absurdist quality to the Sacklers. The idea that Ferris Bueller is somehow connected to this kind of horror made sure that we presented Richard Sackler as [someone] who, at least in his own mind, doesn't believe he's doing anything wrong."  The cast also includes Taylor Kitsch ("Friday Night Lights," "True Detective"), Dina Shihabi ("Jack Ryan," "Altered Carbon"), Tyler Ritter ("NCIS," "Arrow"), and West Duchovny ("The Magicians," "Saint X"), among others. 

As a fictionalized show based on recent real-world events, "Painkiller" will follow real-life figures and invented personae. For example, as previously mentioned, Broderick will play Richard Sackler, heir to the Sackler empire. He's not the only member of his family portrayed in the series: His father Raymond and uncle Mortimer will be played by Sam Anderson and John Rothman, respectively. Along with their brother Arthur, Raymond and Mortimer were the ones who originally acquired Purdue Pharma in 1952.

Other characters seem to have been created for the show's story. Aduba will play Edie, a courageous investigator looking to take Purdue down, while Duchovny and Shihabi will portray Shannon Shaeffer and Britt Hufford, members of the Purdue sales team who become deeply enmeshed in the Sackler family's empire.

Who is directing and producing Painkiller?

Alongside Patrick Radden Keefe, there is a rather large list of other executive producers. This includes the show's creators, Noah Harpster and Micah Fitzerman-Blue, who are also enlisted as writers and showrunners for "Painkiller." Other EPs include Peter Berg, who is also directing, as well as Alex Gibney and Eric Newman. 

Harpster may be more immediately recognized for his work as an actor, having appeared in "For All Mankind," "Transparent," and other projects. But his work as a writer is impressive. For example, he didn't just appear in "Transparent," but wrote six episodes of the show alongside Micah Fitzerman-Blue. Fitzerman-Blue also served as producer on 30 episodes of "Transparent." The two furthermore collaborated as writers on "Maleficent: Mistress of Evil," and on the script of the Oscar-nominated biopic of Fred Rogers, "A Beautiful Day In the Neighborhood." Both were also executive producers on the latter.

Director Berg, meanwhile, has previously directed the black comedy "Very Bad Things" (his directorial debut), the 2004 film version of "Friday Night Lights," and "Deepwater Horizon," among others. Gibney, meanwhile, has served as some sort of producer on more than a hundred films, primarily documentaries, including "The Crime of the Century," which also examined the opioid crisis in the United States. Newman has a long list of production credits himself, and has served as a showrunner on both "Narcos" and "Narcos: Mexico."

Is there a trailer for Painkiller?

The official trailer for "Painkiller" dropped on July 11. It's a vivid look at every single aspect of the series, from the earliest days of OxyContin's rise to the toll it's taken on ordinary people. It kicks off with Edie, who announces her status as an investigator with the U.S. attorney's office and her desire to uphold the rule of law. "You lie, you hurt people," she intones, "you go down." But of course, it's more complicated than that. We soon hear Richard Sackler sum up the drug's vicious appeal in what's likely to be one of the series' most memorable lines: "All of human behavior is essentially comprised of two things: Run from pain, run toward pleasure ... If we place ourselves right there between pain and pleasure, we will never have to worry about money again." This fact launches the family, and their drug, into the stratosphere.

"Painkiller" intends to portray both the electric highs of the epidemic's early days and its devastating lows, mirroring the experience of addiction. Both experiences are evident in the trailer. Sales reps charm doctors and students, who are eager to become the pain-conquering heroes Purdue Pharma claims OxyContin will make them. Said reps go on to buy new cars with the mounds of money they make — money they never dreamed might be accessible to everyday people like them. But disaster soon starts to creep in. Family members accuse Purdue Pharma's agents of thoughtless cruelty. People descend into addiction. Purdue board meetings grow tense. Through it all, Edie marches forward, determined to discover the truth. If the trailer is any indication, "Painkiller" is set to become one of the best series of 2023.