Hemlock Grove

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For their third outing, Netflix has produced a fairly standard, teen-focused horror of the Vampire Diaries ilk. Because other similar, cable-served, boundary pushing shows like True Blood focus on adults, Hemlock sits in an under-served space for serialized stories. That doesn’t make it good, it only makes it tolerably intriguing with worthwhile moments.

On the up side, generally, there are enough new tweaks to the legends and character interplay that it will keep you coming back. The cast is fairly talented, though the directing could have used a more subtle hand and the writing some serious assistance.

The little known Kaniehtiio Horn and Nicole Boivin acquitted themselves best in the cast. But, in the larger roles, only Aaron Douglas (Battlestar Galactica, The Killing)  seemed to keep it all under control despite the writing and directing.  Catching Dougray Scott in both this and concurrently in ep 7.2.4 of Doctor Who (Hide), shows what difference a better director might have made. Even Kandyse MacClure (Da Vinci’s InquestJeremiahBattlestar Galactica) was ill used in this series. She has moments, but the directors allowed her to go well off the rails.

Which brings me to the downside: the writing and directing. While the production values were rather good throughout the show, the writing and directing were just weak. Untried may be the kindest word, but “bad” would be more honest in terms of its value. The story ideas manage to overwhelm the bad points and keep you both curious and coming back, but don’t expect quality. There are short cuts, bad choices, melodrama… you get the idea. And the resolution is both relatively obvious and such a cheap play for a second series that you may leave it annoyed. I will grant that the move to more Gothic horror in the storyline, as opposed to constant baths of blood, was both welcome and a surprise given Eli Roth’s involvement.

I’ve, so far, avoided the nadir of the series: Famke Janssen. I typically adore Janssen for her strength and charisma, but she is the worst thing in the series. Forgetting the dialed-in performance, her accent is a scary embarrassment of laughability. To be fair, her costumer should be shot as well. I’ve never seen such a sexy woman made to look so dumpy in my life. White is so not her color, and the fabrics and cuts were about the most horrifying thing on screen. Really, you’ll notice even if you don’t care about such things or typically notice them.

All that said, I applaud Netflix for trying to produce original content, both for their survival and to break the control of the bigger outlets. It isn’t that other shows haven’t been created just for streaming (The Guild, Husbands, Wigs) but Netflix is raising the bar and is willing to take risks and range far. They also finish their full season before releasing it, so you know you won’t be left hanging a few episodes in like so many other shows.Given the success of this series, there is likely to be a round 2. I’m hopeful they will learn from it and improve. It isn’t that there weren’t some intriguing ideas, they just needed better talent behind the scenes to realize them.

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