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Netflix's Painkiller - Everything You Need To Know

Plans for the Netflix series "Painkiller" have been in the works for some time, with initial announcements for its cast in the press going back to at least 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.

Of course, 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," director Kevin Smith's action-comedy "Lift" — starring Vincent D'Onofrio and Gugu Mbatha-Raw — 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, of course, impossible to tell at this point. Hulu's "Dopesick" — which was also based on the book by journalist Beth Macy and included several fictionalized characters — tells its story in eight episodes. 

Once again, however, this will not be Netflix's first foray into attempting to profile, in one way or another, 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 zoomed 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 looked 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 could be done in a lot of different ways. From the sound of it, "Painkiller" is taking a somewhat biographical route, even if certain confessed liberties are taken with the story. "A fictionalized retelling of events," said a press release from Netflix, "'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."

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. 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 Ferris Bueller himself, Matthew Broderick, who will be playing Richard Sackler. 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, Richard Sackler is 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 apparently seem to be created exclusively for the show's story. Aduba's role, for example, is listed on IMDb merely as "Edie." Other characters, including those with last names — West Duchovny's Shannon Shaeffer, for instance — yield nothing in relation to the Purdue Pharma scandal, save for news that an actor has been cast to play them in Netflix's "Painkiller."

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?

At this moment, there is no trailer for "Painkiller," though it is likely not long down Netflix's pipeline. What we do have, however, are a handful of production stills that give us a sense of the series' tone and feel. It is not that surprising that there is a tonal contrast between these photos, nor that Matthew Broderick's Richard Sackler is portrayed in a less-than-sympathetic light in that context. Both the shots that include Sackler show him in rather celebratory circumstances, even obliviously so. In one shot he is flanked by a brass band as he happily speaks into a microphone. In another, he's on a platform above what appear to be cheerleaders at some kind of sports event. 

Meanwhile, Taylor Kitsch's Glen Kryger and his wife Lily (Carolina Bartczak) pore over books in what looks to be the office of their tire shop, stressed and concerned looks on their faces. There is clearly, and aptly, a clear division between those living the good life and those bearing the world's burdens. Uzo Aduba's Edie and Tyler Ritter's John Brownlee — possibly based on the western Virginia attorney general who lessened previous charges against Purdue Pharma in 2007 — also lean over a computer pondering something in what looks like it may be an investigation, with other charts and men in suits surrounding them. Whose side they're on exactly isn't really clear, but we'll likely find out on August 10.