• Network: NETFLIX
  • Series Premiere Date: May 31, 2019
Metascore
86

Universal acclaim - based on 27 Critic Reviews

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 24 out of 27
  2. Negative: 0 out of 27

Where To Watch

Stream On

Critic Reviews

  1. Reviewed by: Helen Brown
    Jan 3, 2020
    100
    The emotional weight of Duvernay’s respect for the physical and emotional facts settled slowly in your stomach. You wanted to cheer when the wrongful convictions were vacated. But the sight of the now grown men returning to their childhood bedrooms hollowed the triumph.
  2. Reviewed by: Matt Goldberg
    May 31, 2019
    100
    The emotional impact of When They See Us cannot be understated. ... It’s not easy watching these kids and their families constantly suffer, but it doesn’t feel like DuVernay is scolding the audience as much as demanding their empathy. ... All of the actors are phenomenal, but special attention has to go to Jerome, who is a revelation as Korey Wise.
  3. Reviewed by: Matthew Gilbert
    May 30, 2019
    100
    The four-parter is such a powerfully human take on one of our justice system’s most heinous blunders. Director and co-writer Ava DuVernay doesn’t appeal solely to our conscience; she goes for the emotional jugular. ... All of [the actors] are remarkable; there’s not a glitch in the casting.
  4. Reviewed by: Willa Paskin
    May 30, 2019
    100
    Impassioned, worthy, and at times very moving. It is also regularly excruciating. A particularly pointed example of a new kind of Must-See TV, When They See Us appeals not to our pleasure centers but to our higher minds, our civic responsibility, our duty to watch for the greater good. It challenges TV’s mandate to be fun.
  5. TV Guide Magazine
    Reviewed by: Matt Roush
    May 23, 2019
    100
    The emotional roller coaster never lets up, careening from rage and sorrow to horror in director-cowriter Ava DuVernay's shattering four-part dramatization of the infamous Central Park Five case. ... A flawless cast. [27 May - 9 Jun 2019, p.13]
  6. Reviewed by: Amy Amatangelo
    May 30, 2019
    95
    When They See Us is exceedingly difficult to watch. It cut me to my very core. When you see it, I’m sure it will do the same to you.
  7. Reviewed by: Joshua Alston
    May 31, 2019
    91
    When They See Us is DuVernay at her best: urgent, unflinching, and political. But like 13th before it, it’s a gutting viewing experience, one that probably benefits from binge-viewing, but makes doing so nearly impossible.
  8. Reviewed by: Glenn Garvin
    Jun 22, 2019
    90
    As television storytelling, it's little short of brilliant. As history, the verdict is less certain.
  9. Reviewed by: Alissa Wilkinson
    May 31, 2019
    90
    DuVernay’s series offers a different way into the story, one made for an age of true crime obsession — and not only is it compelling, but it’s desperately needed.
  10. Reviewed by: Robert Lloyd
    May 31, 2019
    90
    Perhaps because DuVernay, a co-writer here as well as the sole director, has experience both in documentary and drama, it works much better than such projects often do. A human story teased from history, it is personal and political, inextricably and in equal measure. ... All [of the actor playing the five] are exceptional.
  11. Reviewed by: Melanie McFarland
    May 30, 2019
    90
    The visual is the story here, and it does a brilliant job in telling its own part. Through the careful ministrations of Young, DuVernay and a superlative case, this is a series that makes previously erased people seen and known. Art has few greater purposes than that.
  12. Reviewed by: Hank Stuever
    May 30, 2019
    90
    Split into four episodes, DuVernay’s approach bluntly but successfully turns this story inside-out, borrowing the look of true-crime dramas while discarding the genre’s usual tropes. It focuses primarily on the boys, their families and the irreparable effects of their jailing. Rather than lionize them, it goes one better and humanizes them.
  13. Reviewed by: Sophie Gilbert
    May 29, 2019
    90
    This is a work that wants viewers to see these people, and the fullness of their humanity, above everything else. What this means is a miniseries that’s both profoundly rich and extraordinarily hard to watch. ... What makes it vital, though, is Jerome’s performance as a kid growing up in front of our eyes, under the most outrageous circumstances.
  14. Reviewed by: Judy Berman
    May 23, 2019
    90
    Elegant, wrenching four-part reenactment of the Central Park Five saga. ... [Ava DuVernay] never reduces her subjects—five real, live, now-middle-aged men—to statistics or types. (The lawyers are generic by contrast.)
  15. Reviewed by: Dan Fienberg
    May 21, 2019
    90
    [Creator/director Ava DuVernay] sometimes prioritizes the intellectual over the emotional or intentionally leaves big gaps in time and perspective. But her choices never feel haphazard. The material mines profound outrage, and the note-perfect ensemble lends it heart.
  16. Reviewed by: Daniel D'Addario
    May 21, 2019
    90
    This show stands apart. ... Retaining control of a rapidly beating heart (if at times only narrowly), “When They See Us” immerses viewers in a tale with none of the gaudy fun that true crime often offers. It’s an achievement and, given its pride of place on a streaming service despite its difficult subject matter, a worthy use of its director’s star power.
  17. Reviewed by: Robert Rorke
    May 31, 2019
    88
    The actors are all top-notch — but expect special recognition come Emmy-time for Jerome, who dominates the fourth hour, Farmiga and Ellis. “When They See Us” is a tough watch, but viewers will be moved and sickened at the prevalence of racism even in our so-called sophisticated cities.
  18. Reviewed by: Odie Henderson
    May 31, 2019
    88
    Each episode has its own most-valuable players either in front of or behind the camera, but the entire series is elevated by the two sets of actors who embody the Central Park Five. ... Taken as a whole, there’s a lot to recommend “When They See Us.” It does as much as it can to recast the gaze on Black and brown people, eliciting empathy and the desire for justice. It demonizes the right people and demands your fury over the events presented.
  19. Reviewed by: Mark A. Perigard
    May 31, 2019
    83
    Whatever pacing issues the miniseries has fade away in the final, 90-minute installment as DuVernay proves to be a canny storyteller, saving the most harrowing, horrific, heartbreaking chapter for last.
  20. Reviewed by: Lucy Mangan
    Dec 4, 2019
    80
    What could easily become agitprop resists the temptation. It is a dense, fast-moving series that examines not just the effects of systemic racism but the effects of all sorts of disenfranchisement (though you could argue they all have that same root cause) on people with the boys’ background. ... The performances, from the young actors and the veterans alike, are uniformly astonishing.
  21. Reviewed by: Jen Chaney
    May 30, 2019
    80
    This scripted miniseries, which debuts Friday on Netflix, feels more personal due to DuVernay’s intimate approach — she directed and co-wrote all four episodes — and thoughtful performances across the board, especially from the actors who portray the wrongly accused as boys and men.
  22. Reviewed by: Brian Lowry
    May 30, 2019
    80
    Although the precipitating event took place 30 years ago, as DuVernay's earlier documentary "The 13th" illustrated, the subject matter couldn't feel more relevant, with a passion and urgency that ultimately triumphs over any of the structural flaws.
  23. Reviewed by: Verne Gay
    May 30, 2019
    75
    Tough to watch, but an effective — and often powerful — indictment.
  24. Reviewed by: Ben Travers
    May 21, 2019
    75
    “When They See Us” hits hardest in its final hour, which is a break in format both much-needed and illustrative of what was missing in the previous three.
  25. Reviewed by: Clémence Michallon
    Jan 3, 2020
    60
    DuVernay’s four-episode series is a darkly-filmed tale that sometimes reads like a courtroom drama and expertly alternates between tense, moving and, at times, lighter-hearted moments.
  26. Reviewed by: Troy Patterson
    May 31, 2019
    60
    As it is, the many excellent small performances in “When They See Us” feel especially small because of the series’ ambitious sweep. There are a lot of full characters here, but we only get partial views of them, and the interplay between the poetic evocations of these individual souls and the grand indictment of the criminal-justice system is rarely as compelling as one might like.
  27. Reviewed by: Steven Scaife
    May 23, 2019
    50
    When They See Us is a handsomely mounted dramatization of the plight of these boys, of what was taken away from them due to their being targets of systemic racism. ... As a piece of narrative storytelling, though, the series hits its thematic targets with such repetition at such close range that you begin to question the point of dragging this exercise to over four hours.
User Score
7.5

Generally favorable reviews- based on 107 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 84 out of 107
  2. Negative: 19 out of 107
  1. May 31, 2019
    10
    and the racistss, trumpists, right wing-pseudo movie critics are coming
    DO NOT READ THE OTHER CRITCS OF THE USERS
  2. Jun 3, 2019
    9
    Amazing work, episode 4 broke me. The actor playing Korey is heartbreakingly brilliant.
  3. Jun 2, 2019
    10
    A powerful and disturbing depiction of the shortcomings of the US criminal justice system. Ava DuVernay's When They See Us is a must-see.