The Watcher just beat Dahmer as No. 1 Netflix show — stream it or skip it?

Naomi Watts as Nora Brannock and Bobby Cannavale as Dean Brannock in The Watcher on Netflix
(Image credit: Netflix)

Dahmer’s reign as the No. 1 Netflix TV show is over (for now at least), as new thriller series The Watcher has rocketed straight to the top spot less than a week after it debuted on the streaming service.

That's no mean feat considering Dahmer was crowned the second-highest watched English language Netflix show last week. 

Curiously, the two shows are actually linked as both Dahmer and The Watcher were created by Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan. The duo previously collaborated on Glee and Scream Queen, alongside Brad Falchuk. While Falchuk wasn’t involved in Dahmer or The Watcher, he did work with Murphy to co-create American Horror Story. Clearly, this trio knows how to craft a very compelling horror/thriller series….and also one about show choirs. 

What is The Watcher about?  

Much like Dahmer, The Watcher is based on a true story. The show is inspired by an article that was published in New York Magazine in 2018. Part of the magazine’s The Cut column, it chronicled the mysterious events that befell a New Jersey family after they moved into what they thought would be their dream home. 

This TV show adaptation on Netflix stars Naomi Watts and Bobby Cannavale as a married couple whose move to a new home becomes a living nightmare when they are threatened by terrifying letters from an unknown stalker that are mysteriously signed by “The Watcher."

As if threatening unsolicited mail wasn’t enough of a reason for the couple to begin second-guessing their living situation, matters are made worse by strange neighbors and several sinister sequences that have the pair convinced they are being watched.

What do critics say about The Watcher? 

The Watcher may have rapidly climbed to the summit of the Netflix top 10, but its critical reception has been pretty underwhelming. The show currently scores just 38% on Rotten Tomatoes, and its audience score isn’t much better at just 44%, a far cry from Dahmer’s viewer rating of 84%. 

Angie Han of the Hollywood Reporter was pretty cutting, declaring it an “unforgettable true story” but a “forgettable miniseries.” The Wrap’s Stephan Lee wasn’t much kinder saying, “If you’re in the mood for pure camp, The Watcher will entertain you for an hour or so before you’re yelling at it to get off your lawn.”

Another negative write-up came from Brian Tallerico of “[Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan] might get you to watch, but they didn’t take the time to make something worth remembering.” And Variety’s Daniel D’Addario criticized the show for coming up short in the surprises department. 

On a slightly more positive note, Stuart Heritage of the The Guardian compared the show favorably to Dahmer and suggested that fans of Murphy’s previous works will probably enjoy The Watcher. “If you like [Murphy's] shows, you will love this. If you don’t? Hey, at least it’s better than that godawful Jeffrey Dahmer thing,” Heritage wrote. 

Should you stream The Watcher?

Ryan Murphy has a strong track record for creating highly bingeable TV shows, and while The Watcher definitely isn’t his best-received effort to date, its position in the Netflix top 10 would suggest that viewers are pretty interested in the series despite its disappointing reviews. 

At just seven episodes, and a total run time of less than six hours, The Watcher is a show that you can probably consume over just a single weekend. While its critics claim it’s got a fair amount of issues, it’s not a particularly significant time investment, and you may find its numerous twists and turns hook you through to the final episode. 

Halloween is just two weeks away, so if you’re craving something with a sinister edge then The Watcher could be exactly what you’ve been searching for. Of course, if you’ve had your fill of Murphy’s shtick then you’ll likely want to steer clear because The Watcher certainly isn’t aiming to reinvent the mystery thriller genre. 

Next: Here are the top 7 new movies to watch this week on Netflix, HBO Max and more.

Rory Mellon
Entertainment Editor (UK)

Rory is an Entertainment Editor at Tom’s Guide based in the UK. He covers a wide range of topics but with a particular focus on gaming and streaming. When he’s not reviewing the latest games, searching for hidden gems on Netflix, or writing hot takes on new gaming hardware, TV shows and movies, he can be found attending music festivals and getting far too emotionally invested in his favorite football team.