‘Painkiller’ Director Says Netflix Opioid Crisis Series Is Not Competing With ‘Dopesick’: ‘We Have a Very Different Tone’

“It’s a really complicated big issue that can support multiple content,” Pete Berg tells TheWrap

Taylor Kitsch and Carolina Bartczak in "Painkiller" (Keri Anderson/Netflix)

Netflix’s new limited series “Painkiller” tackles the Sackler dynasty and Purdue Pharma’s role in the opioid crisis through a fictional retelling of the epidemic — similar to Hulu’s 2021-released “Dopesick.”

“Painkiler” EP and director Pete Berg says the coincidence was simply a matter of timing.

“We were sort of moving at the same pace,” Berg told TheWrap about the Netflix six-episode series and “Dopesick.” “Both shows were in development around the same time, which happens every once in a while and our business. They went first.”

“Dopesick,” which premiered October 2021, stars Kaitlyn Dever, Michael Stuhlbarg and Michael Keaton, whose portrayal of a doctor getting bit by addiction Berg called “shattering.” Centering on similar themes of the destruction prompted by the opioid epidemic, “Painkiller,” which was released Thursday on Netflix, balances its critique of the Sackler family — led by Matthew Broderick’s Richard Sackler — with touching vignettes portrayed by Uzo Aduba, Taylor Kitsch and West Duchovny, showcasing how the epidemic impacted countless individuals and their families.

While Berg admitted that the timing was “bizarre” for two series on the opioid crisis to release within a couple years, he said the shows are not competing but instead add a rich variety of perspectives to the multi-faceted issue.

“I think we have a very different tone, and we can exist nicely with a really outstanding show,” Berg said. “It’s a really complicated big issue that can support multiple content.”

For Berg, the tragedy of the opioid is one that “bears telling over and over again,” comparing it to a war story — “the war of Oxycontin” — in which the same war has been recounted by numerous movies.

In addition to “Dopesick,” Berg also pointed to the breadth of source material created surrounding the epidemic that enrich its continuous retelling, including Barry Meier’s 2003 book “Pain Killer: A Wonder Drug’s Trail of Addiction and Death” — which inspired the Netflix series, and eventually brought on Meier as a consulting producer — the Netflix documentary “The Pharmacist,” as well as artist and advocate Nan Goldin’s documentary titled “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed.”

For those weary of the show’s similarities, Berg suggests critics “give our show 15-20 minutes and see if you don’t think that it’s a different experience.”

“Painkiller” is now streaming on Netflix.