As college students we have all heard roommate horror stories, or if you’re especially unlucky, maybe you have one of your own. But I doubt most of us have experienced roommates quite like the ones depicted in “Worst Roommate Ever.”
The new Netflix limited documentary series, released March 1, consists of five episodes that highlight four different true-crime cases centered around roommates. Some involve murder, while others include emotional manipulation and violent crimes. The common thread between these stories is that the unsuspecting victims become roommates, in one way or another, with people who were not quite what they seemed to be.
One woman presented herself as a philanthropic old lady who ran a boarding house while she actually was burying her tenants in her backyard and cashing in their Social Security checks. Another man lied to his roommates while actually being a squatter, abusing tenant laws to wreak havoc on people’s lives all along the East Coast.
The production and editing of the show impressed me, the quick cuts and eerie music making the creepy tension of each case tangible. There was one point when I had to pause the first episode, “Call Me Grandma,” because I was too disturbed by the story, pictures and editing to continue late at night.
The producers do a good job of telling a detailed and thorough account of each case. They physically visited many of the important landmarks mentioned in the retellings and included voices of the people involved with or affected by the criminals, interweaving the stories to puzzle together the bigger picture of the harm done.
I also liked the choice to include animated visual recreations of events that played during people’s interviews rather than the live-action reenactment approach that most true-crime documentaries typically use. It was an interesting touch that made “Worst Roommate Ever” stand out for me.
The editing style is fast-paced, filled with jarring jump cuts and distorted effects. While it no doubt makes the show shocking and entertaining to watch, it occasionally distracts from the main focus, which is the incredibly sad and traumatizing events of these cases.
There is a sense of empathy missing from these retellings that stems from a matter-of-fact tone and the heavy focus on facts and events without diving into much else. It feels like the producers sensationalize the cases and use the people involved as a means to an end without much regard for the emotion, pain and trauma behind them, especially since some of the events occurred as recently as five years ago.
While “Worst Roommate Ever” tells true-crime cases in a compelling way, the production style and drama take away from the emotion in the cases. I believe that it is important to remember that true-crime stories affect real people’s lives in horrible and traumatizing ways and must be treated with sensitivity and respect, which I do not think “Worst Roommate Ever” has much of. This makes the show deeply average for me.