In July of 2014, a young man by the name of Conrad “Coco” Roy III died by suicide. His story took the country by storm not because of his tragic social anxiety and mental health issues—though warranted by every means of the word. Instead, the case became one of interest to local police and the media due to alarming and revealing texts from his girlfriend at the time, Michelle Carter. That was nearly 8 years ago. Yet, the case is still as shocking as it was then, now.
With such a highly scrutinized case and Carter’s recent reappearance in the media, it’s no wonder the story is getting adapted into a series. But before The Girl from Plainville, Conrad and Michelle’s story has been the subject of other projects in Hollywood. In 2018, Bella Thorne played Michelle in Lifetime’s television movie If Words Could Kill. Then one year later,HBO premiered its two-part documentary I Love You, Now Die providing more details surrounding Carter’s involvement in Roy’s death. An eight-episode dramatized TV show based on the Esquire article of the same name was the next appropriate step.
Though there’s no longer any mystery surrounding Roy’s death thanks to technology and the courts of Massachusetts, Liz Hannah and Patrick Macmanus’s series details the events leading up to his untimely demise. Showcasing the specifics and limitations of Carter’s (Elle Fanning) relationship with Roy (Colton Ryan) is no easy feat. But the showrunners get creative by using their texts to depict the dynamics of their roller-coaster connection. Of course, this means the show often compels viewers to remove the information they already know about this case. But as a result, The Girl from Plainville ends up being a disturbing, eye-opening, yet fascinating recount of what could have been a completely avoidable tragedy had it not been for the ego of a 17-year-old girl.
To the benefit of viewers, the dramatization of the couple’s turbulent relationship works for several reasons. It provides insight towards both Carter and Roy’s mental states during the entirety of knowing each other. Elle Fanning’s Michelle enjoys fantasy over reality as showcased throughout the series when she dozes off and reimagines herself and Conrad as the leads in Glee. Fanning’s ability to tap into a troubling portrayal and execute manipulation with ease adds to the uneasiness that viewers may experience. These elements together are an odd combination, but it’s a tastefully entertaining tactic by the showrunners to show how Michelle lived several different realities.
That’s not to say that the Hulu series victimizes Carter. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Colton Ryan’s Coco wasn’t at a good point mentally to enter such a complicated involvement. And the show is honest about showcasing that. Often trapped by his own despondence, he’d often fixate on reasons why he shouldn’t live. Luckily for viewers, Ryan’s portrayal of such melancholia feels realistic. From smiling with family on the beach one moment to trauma bonding with the one person he thought knew him the best, The Girl from Plainville adequately captures the ‘many faces’ of depression-solidifying their message in terms of who truly deserves the audience’s sympathy.
The real triumph of this 8-episode run is the compelling frame by which the story navigates its core message. Maybe this isn’t just about a girl’s deliberate failure to interfere and the encouragement of a life-robbing tragedy. Maybe it’s not about our perception of their short relationship because—according to their text conversations—it was very real to them. It’s simply about a beautiful soul who was taken too soon because of his unfortunate solace in and connection to a manipulator who understood him the most. Framed that way, Hulu’s drama series eliminates the circus that the media created from this tragic case and restores the elements that remind us why genuine human connection is so important.
After all, no one could have predicted Carter’s sudden and cruel actions towards Coco. But at least The Girl from Plainville gets one thing right – that Roy, his family, and cases/people in situations like theirs are the ones deserving our attention the most.
Check out the trailer of Hulu’s series The Girl from Plainville. The first 3 episodes are available starting March 29th.