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Netflix Released One Of Its Worst-Reviewed Shows Yet, But The Audience Takes Don’t Agree

Catherine Tate is an internationally renowned actress, well-known for playing fan favorite companion Donna Noble on Doctor Who and for joining The Office as a regular in Season 9 as Nellie Bertram. Her award-winning The Catherine Tate Show, as well, was enjoyed by critics and audiences alike during its three-season run. This makes it somewhat surprising that Tate's latest project, Netflix's Hard Cell, is garnering quite a resoundingly harsh response from critics, which itself is in near-complete opposition from those opinions of general viewers. In fact, this series that is currently one of Netflix's worst-reviewed originals, is actually polling well above average with its audience scores.

British comedian Catherine Tate not only bears much of the on-screen brunt by starring as multiple characters in the mockumentary-style Hard Cell, she also wrote and directed for the six-episode series. In it, Tate's Laura Willis takes a documentary film crew inside a women’s prison to document life behind bars and the less-than-smooth production of an inmate-led musical. Though only eight critics have reviewed the film on Rotten Tomatoes at the time of this writing, Hard Cell has a score of 0%, averaging a mere 4 out of 10 stars amongst those critical reviews. 

Rachel Aroesti of The Guardian rates the series 2 out of 5 stars and says that Catherine Tate’s comedy prowess doesn’t translate in her first sitcom, largely because of lazy stereotypes and the lack of an actual plot:

Tate might be a veteran character comedian but Hard Cell is her first attempt at a sitcom – and thanks to a lacklustre narrative and an abundance of one-dimensional characters, it really shows.

Vicky Jessop of London Evening Standard also grades the series 2 stars out of 5, calling it “criminally bad.” She agrees with the other critic that the characters are underdeveloped and the plot is nonexistent:

There are the bones of a good show in here. They’ve just been locked away behind several sets of bars, rather like its protagonists; as a result, the whole thing stumbles at the starting line and never quite hits its stride.

In a somewhat stunning turn, however, the audience score is on the other end of the spectrum. With a pool of 52 viewers who presumably have Netflix subscriptions — a much larger sample size than the critics — Hard Cell has an 83% Fresh score, garnering an average 4 out of 5 stars. One fan who rated the series 4.5 out of 5 stars called out the critical reviews for their low scores:

I don't know what these critic reviews are talking about. Yes, the first episode is a bit slow, but it still has its moments. However, in the second episode they draw you deeper into the characters and the show really finds its comedic stride. Not to mention the season finale, which is one of the best/wildest I have ever seen for a half-comedy.

The audience reviews acknowledge some of the aspects from the critics' notes — dated stereotypes, a slow first episode, etc. — but say the series as a whole makes up for its faults. A number of viewers mention the crazy twist ending, as well as the binge factor, with its six 30-minute episodes making the first season a fast watch. Many fans, like this one, are even holding out hope for a Season 2, which technically couldn't do worse with critics at this point:

I absolutely loved this show. Catherine Tate is always impressive and there were so many other excellent characters in this program... it was a brilliant cast. The short length of each episode at under 30 minutes meant we'd watch 2 in one go, and be looking forward to the next episodes. This had humour, pathos, some great songs and memorable characters, and I so hope there will be a second season!

The wild difference between the critical ratings and the audience ratings may lie in the entertainment factor alone. The audience reviews don’t overlook the shortcomings of Hard Cell, but they don’t dwell on them either. The humor may be sophomoric and the first episode or two may drag, but by the end of the experience, they apparently were left satisfied overall.

If you’d like to catch Catherine Tate in her latest project, Hard Cell is available for streaming on Netflix, though it may never enter the annal of best shows on the streaming platform. Be sure to check out our 2022 TV Schedule to stay up to date on the latest premieres.

Heidi Venable
Heidi Venable

Mom of two and hard-core '90s kid. Unprovoked, will quote Friends in any situation. Can usually be found rewatching The West Wing instead of doing anything productive.