Dopesick Hulu

Michael Keaton, center, both stars and executive produces “Dopesick,” streaming today on Hulu.

Michael Keaton (“Batman”) both stars and executive produces “Dopesick,” streaming today on Hulu. Adapted from a bestselling book of the same name by Beth Macy, it relates the harrowing tale of how one company, Purdue Pharma, introduced OxyContin in the most deceptive fashion, hooking thousands on a powerful painkiller that turned many into addicts and sending many to their graves.

“Dopesick” follows several narratives during a span of years, bouncing back and forth in time. This challenging chronology, once seen as an innovative breakthrough of prestige TV, also can be used to pad out a story that might be more powerful if told more economically in a linear manner.

Michael Stuhlbarg stars as Richard Sackler, the ambitious Purdue executive who suggested his family-owned company develop and aggressively market the drug. Viewers might recall Stuhlbarg as the brilliant gangster Arnold Rothstein in “Boardwalk Empire.” He’s no less sinister here.

Enormously rich from their drug empire and for their pioneering work in the lucrative field of pharmaceutical advertising, the Sacklers were chiefly known to the public for their philanthropic donations to museums and universities.

In an early scene, they convene in the Sackler Wing of NYC’s Metropolitan Museum to discuss Richard’s new ventures. The effect hardly is subtle. The blend of timeless culture and conspiratorial malice leaves them looking like a family of vampires.

On the other side of the economic divide, Keaton plays Dr. Sam Finnix, a recent widower who followed his late wife to rural Appalachia to practice medicine among the poor. He’s first seen making house calls at the most dilapidated abodes. He’s that kind of doctor. But even he is bamboozled by Purdue’s salesmanship, buying into the company’s line, given the blessing of the FDA, that OxyContin’s “time release” delivery made it nonaddictive.

Look for Rosario Dawson as DEA agent Bridget Meyer, and Peter Sarsgaard as Virginia prosecutor Rick Mountcastle, who begin to pick up patterns of widespread addiction and attendant crime in the very areas Purdue targeted for the OxyContin rollout.

Purdue introduced the pills in the mining areas of Appalachia and the logging counties of Maine, precisely because those professions were so dangerous and back-breaking. When you’re launching a painkiller, go where the pain is.

Meyer and Mountcastle slowly begin to make a case against Purdue, a tough hurdle given the company’s deep pockets, powerful friends and links to the DEA. And this is where the eight-hour series’ shaky chronology begins to get wearisome, and where a straight, one-thing-after-another approach might better show viewers how the case was made.

The 2015 movie “Spotlight” about the investigation into the Boston Catholic clergy abuse scandal comes to mind. It ran a little more than two hours and also starred Michael Keaton.

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Kevin McDonough can be reached at