Television Review: Hemlock Grove (2013)

Hemlock Grove (2013)
Netflix Original Series

A teenage girl is brutally murdered, sparking a hunt for her killer. But in a town where everyone hides a secret, will they find the monster among them?

The second of Netflix dive into original programming is a bizarre supernatural show of sex and intrigue. A lot of people were saying it’s like True Blood smashed together with Twin Peaks. Having never watched Twin Peaks, I can’t say whether the comparison is accurate, but the True Blood-esque nature of certain episodes were very apparent beneath a general haze of what the fuckery that coats this series. It’s hard to say much without giving things away, but at its heart Hemlock Grove is a murder mystery, as girls get ripped apart each full moon in a small town after a gypsy boy and his mother move in on the outskirts of town.

Landon Liboiron (previously seen on normal television as one of the highly obnoxious kids in Terra Nova) plays teenage Peter, who comes to town with a stigma firmly planted on his head due to his gypsy heritage. After having seen him in Terra Nova, I’ve come to the conclusion that the dinosaur show was even worse than I thought because this kid can actually act, something not really apparent in his previous show. He’s probably the most consistent of all the characters, growing and developing slowly as the series goes on and never seeming to take massive jumps in personality as some of the somewhat bipolar kids around him do.

Speaking of bipolar, the littlest Skarsgard plays Roman Godfrey, the spoiled heir of the wealthiest family in Hemlock Grove, who spends his time snorting coke and banging girls in his car. Bill Skarsgard is all gangly limbs and distracting lips, bouncing from one personality to the next, but I think that has a lot to do with the character of Roman and not necessarily a comment on Skarsgard’s acting. Famke Janssen, who plays his mother Olivia, has similar bipolar episodes that left me baffled and confused. But I’m pretty sure that’s what the creators wanted – a baffled, confused, seriously freaked out audience.

Look at all that pretty cast. It's like it's on the CW if the CW was HBO on crack.There are witches who do seriously disgusting witchcraft, whispers of werewolves and vampires, and a creepy tower with the Godfrey name on it, where shady scientific experiments are held regularly and with unknown consequence. Occasional flashbacks gives small clues to what exactly the scientists may be creating or destroying from within. All the most interesting mysteries of Hemlock Grove lead back to the Godfrey Institute behind the walls of this towering building, including Shelly Godfrey – the younger sister of Roman, who happens to be a bald, towering giant of a girl, incapable of speech and with many secrets. It is Shelly and Peter who make this show obsessively watchable even if the answers behind Shelly’s secrets are only ever hinted at.

Had this show been on regular television, where we had to wait an episode each week, I might not have been able to stick with it. Early episodes feel disjointed with gaps in storylines that sometimes left me feeling as though we may have skipped an episode. The momentum the show gains by having the ability to watch as many episodes as one is able in a single sitting allowed me to see the bigger picture instead of the small vignettes of each individual episode. It wasn’t like Lost, where hints and subtle clues went by unaware because it had been weeks, months, even years since the original mystery was created.

Having access to an entire season from the beginning allowed for that joyous marathon viewing that can usually only happen when you start a show already on DVD. This is the prime reason Netflix original programming model can work, benefiting these serialized and complex shows that would probably get cancelled pretty early on for being near impossible to comprehend if any episodes were missed. It’s this marathon viewing that makes Hemlock Grove so enjoyable in its previously mentioned what the fuckery. Instead of losing momentum in the six days between hour-long episodes, the crazy could build on itself until I was left on the verge of obsession.

While most of the underlying mysteries stay open and new doors are opened in the closing episode, there is a satisfying ending to the main storylines with answers flying from all sides in the last hour. If Netflix chooses to not do a second series, I can feel suitably content with what answers were given, but there is so much mystery to delve back into that I hope they move forward. I think the show could only get better as the actors become more comfortable in the skins of their bizarre roles and the writers gain consistency in characterization rather than relying on plot to hold things together.

If you like weird stories with supernatural elements and don’t mind some excessive “teenage” nudity (none of these actors are actually teenagers, of course) and several instances of violent gore, Hemlock Grove could be a very enjoyable series to delve into over a rainy weekend. If things like excessive nudity and violent gore bother you, just cover your eyes, cringe, ask someone else watching with you to tell you when it’s over and enjoy all the madness and insanity. This is not network television. This is possibly the beginning of a means of storytelling that could be so much better.