Rotten: Season 1 – Review

The documentary series Rotten is now streaming on Netflix.

By Greg Wheeler

Although more culturally relevant for American consumers, Rotten is a thought provocative, raw look into the dark side of the American and global food industry. From honey and cod to peanuts and milk, the six episodes tackle a range of different lucrative commodities and the challenges surrounding them. Whilst Rotten may not be as impactful as documentaries like Blackfish or Cowspiracy, it more than makes up for this with an absorbing narrative and impartial, fair look into the industry.

The six episodes focus on different foods and look into the science, history and relevant modern issues for each. This finely balanced juggling act between the three subjects is handled well and blended together in an informative, impartial documentary format. One episode looks into the world of honey and the dwindling population of bees, another tackles the challenges facing dairy farmers and one even goes into detail about the challenge of food allergies. No matter the issue, the episodes have an uneasy, dread-inducing feel to them and some of the imagery is as awe inducing as it is shocking. The way Rotten interviews and shows the issue from both sides of the argument helps the series a lot and because of this impartiality, makes it more thought provocative than it would be otherwise.

This finely tuned balance between the three topics is predominantly what makes Rotten such an endearing documentary. The series goes into detail about each product from its origin through to modern-day problems and even the future challenges facing that product. Whilst Rotten could easily have fallen into a negatively charged documentary about the horrors and ugly side of the food industry, there’s a surprising amount of positivity and hopefulness injected into the latter period of each episode. Innovative solutions to issues, growing consumer confidence in farmers and unexpected positives as a result of regulations are all a welcome addition to this series and helps to dilute some of the contempt the narration brings on in each episode.

This impartial, raw look at each topic is largely the reason Rotten works as well as it does. The material does feel a little familiar at times with long, establishing shots of the animals and shocking imagery; as well as the stories designed to invoke powerful feelings of disgust and anger toward the food industry. The impartial way each story is handled helps to give the series a much-needed fairness though but the overarching feeling is still one of doom despite the sprinkle of positivity injected into each episode.

This six part food documentary does a great job of balancing its science, drama and history into a cohesive series highlighting the struggles and issues inherent with each food in the industry. Culturally, there’s no denying that Rotten is clearly designed for the American market with almost all of the stories revolving around the American Food Industry in North America. While it may not have the same shock factor as other documentaries nor have the prettiest camera work or best cinematography, what Rotten lacks in these departments it more than makes up for with an absorbing, thought provocative narrative. It’s not the best documentary series you’ll ever see but Rotten certainly comes out the blocks swinging with an interesting, thought provocative look at the food industry and the challenges some of our favourite foods are facing.

I give Rotten a B+.

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