TV Review: ‘The Curious Case of Natalia Grace’ is the Definition of Binge Television

Kevin Taft reviews The Curious Case of Natalia Grace, an effective 3-night docu-series event detailing the nature of a little girl's secret.
User Rating: 8

At first, the story of Natalia Grace sounds suspiciously like the box-office horror hit Orphan. A little Ukrainian girl with physical disabilities is adopted by a couple with three children via closed adoption. While everything seems wonderful at first, they soon discover that their charming little girl might actually be a full-grown adult con artist.

Born with a form of dwarfism called spondyloepiphyseal, Natalia seemed to fit right in with the family. When they discover she has pubic hair, they eventually write this off as a simple peculiarity. But when she starts to exhibit dangerous traits, the children and the parents start to fear something isn’t quite right with Natalia.

Fearing for their lives, when a doctor confirms Natalia is an adult and the court system re-ages her from 9 years old to 23, the Barnetts immediately set Natalia up with her own apartment and only visit her occasionally to drop off food, etc. Not taking her disability into account, she could barely reach sinks and cabinets, and in her second apartment, she was forced to climb two flights of stairs. Unable to care for herself, she becomes a nuisance to her new neighbors but also shows some other disturbing traits that make them fearful.

But is that the whole story? Was there something else going on behind the scenes that caused Natalia’s suspicious behavior? Are the Barnett’s innocent? Or was Natalia just defending herself? And is she really an adult, as the courts claimed?

The Curious Case of Natalia Grace is a six-episode docuseries that dives deep into the world-renowned case with unprecedented access to not only footage and court records but Michael Barnett himself. In fact, Michael Barnett becomes the sort of star of the show whether we like it or not. He clearly loves the spotlight and makes certain that every moment of his interview is as dramatic as it can possibly be. It’s like he’s vying for an Emmy award even though this is a documentary, so he shouldn’t actually be acting anyway. We realize soon enough that he is definitely milking his time in the spotlight and isn’t a good actor anyway. He’s actually terrible, which makes the audience call into question everything he says. He’s incredibly compelling, but not for the ways he probably hopes.

While the entire case is phenomenally engrossing, what’s clever about this docuseries is how each episode can turn the previous one on its head. Sometimes we’re on the parent’s side. Sometimes we’re on Natalia’s side. The ping-pong effect is fascinating, and the constant fumbles by Michael Barnett and his oldest son Jacob are dumbfounding. It’s a train crash you can’t look away from, but also an upsetting look at our court system.

The one drawback is there are some unanswered questions, especially when you discover new information within the last few episodes. Then you wonder about the information you heard about early on and how it changes everything you previously thought or believed.

While the series begs for a follow-up, or at least one more episode to tie off some lingering questions, The Curious Case of Natalia Grace is the definition of binge television.

The Curious Case of Natalia Grace began airing on ID (available on Max) on May 29.
All episodes will be available to watch on June 1.

8
Great
Written by
Kevin is a long-time movie buff with a wide variety of tastes and fixations in the film world. He cried the moment Benji appeared onscreen in “Benji,” and it took him about four times to finally watch “The Exorcist” (at age 24) without passing out. “Star Wars: A New Hope” was the movie that changed everything and when his obsession with films and filmmaking began. A screenwriter himself (one long-ago horror script sale to New Line remains on a shelf), his first film "Two Tickets to Paradise" that he co-wrote premiered in June 2022 on Hallmark. He is currently working on another for the iconic brand.

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