Yes, 'Baby Reindeer' on Netflix is about real people. Inside Richard Gadd's true story

Santa has nothing to do with this reindeer.

There's a new Netflix series atop the streamer's most-watched chart that you might have heard about from disturbed friends and family. In the two weeks since it premiered on the platform, "Baby Reindeer," a heavy series in which a bartender and wannabe comedian (Richard Gadd) is stalked by a middle-aged woman has become a sensation.

Darkly captivating all on its own, fans are even more engrossed when they learn the series is based on a true story of stalking and abuse suffered by Gadd, who is also the series' creator.

So why is the deeply disquieting series suddenly so popular? And how much of the story is really true? We answer all your questions about "Baby Reindeer."

What is 'Baby Reindeer' about?

In just seven short episodes, "Reindeer" is both horrifying and fascinating. It tells the story of Donny, a fictionalized version of Gadd, who serves Martha (Jessica Gunning) a free cup of tea, unknowingly starting a yearslong odyssey that begins with thousands of harassing emails and gets worse from there. As the series progresses, Martha becomes more unhinged and violent, turning her anger on Donny's friends, girlfriend and family.

Amid the harassment and trauma, Donny reflects on past abuses he suffered that he believes made him a "sticking plaster" for a predator like Martha. In a flashback episode, he tells the story of Darrien (Tom Goodman-Hill), a much older comedian and writer who groomed and abused Donny over the course of many months. Darrien promised to help Donny's career, then fed the younger man drugs and sexually assaulted him while Donny was unconscious.

Donny's experiences with Darrien left him traumatized and hollow, ruining his relationship with girlfriend Keeley (Shalom Brune-Franklin). He becomes sexually confused, threatening a new courtship with Teri (Nava Mau), a transgender woman Donny is secretly ashamed to date. Martha's stalking, of course, does not help his relationship with Teri, either.

Read more: 'Baby Reindeer' shines light on complicated aspects of sexual abuse

Why is it called 'Baby Reindeer'?

"Baby Reindeer" is one of the many nicknames Martha gives Donny, the object of her obsession.

Richard Gadd as Donny and Jessica Gunning as Martha in "Baby Reindeer."
Richard Gadd as Donny and Jessica Gunning as Martha in "Baby Reindeer."

Is 'Baby Reindeer' a true story?

Yes. "Reindeer" is Gadd's memoir writ large. The series incorporates two stage shows by the comedian, each about a trauma he suffered. The original "Reindeer" began as a one-man show about Gadd's stalker at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2019 and later became an Olivier-winning play on London's West End. Before that, Gadd starred in his 2016 play "Monkey See, Monkey Do," another one-man show about the sexual violence and abuse he experienced, which he performed running on a treadmill pursued by a gorilla.

Although both Martha and Darrien are heavily fictionalized, fans have been investigating online to try to uncover their real identities, going so far as to accuse figures in British comedy of being Darrien. Gadd has condemned this type of amateur sleuthing. “People I love, have worked with, and admire ... are unfairly getting caught up in speculation,” he wrote in an Instagram Story on April 22. “Please don’t speculate on who any of the real life people could be. That’s not the point of our show.”

Tom Goodman-Hill as Darrien in "Baby Reindeer."
Tom Goodman-Hill as Darrien in "Baby Reindeer."

Is 'Baby Reindeer' any good?

"Reindeer" is "good" in the sense that it is impeccably crafted. Gadd wrote his story with substantial nuance. Martha is no cackling Disney villain, and Donny is no innocent lamb. The characters are real and raw rather than likable and perfect. The acting is top-notch, particularly from Gunning, who disappears into Martha's creepy skin. The stalker isn't romanticized or sexed up, but instead portrayed as mentally ill and deeply pitiful.

"Reindeer" is also emotional and vulnerable, the real story of some of the most horrific traumas anyone can experience. It is unsettling and terrifying; and nearly impossible to look away from. Though well made, it is not for everyone. The flashback episode is likely to prove triggering for the intensely graphic depictions of Darrien's assaults on Donny. It is the kind of onscreen violence that sits with you long after the credits have rolled.

Gadd says he wanted to capture the complexity of his own story, without creating a "victim narrative." In an interview with Netflix's fan website Tudum he said, “I think art is quite interesting when you don’t know who you are on the side of. I wanted it to be layered, and I wanted it to capture the human experience. The human experience is that people are good, but they have bits of bad and they make mistakes.”

The comedian has certainly captured his own very human experience. And you probably won't feel the same after you see it.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Baby Reindeer's Donny Dunn has a real name. Here's the true story