Discussing Netflix’s own supernatural darling.
Once Netflix began offering its own exclusive TV shows–all episodes of a season posted at once for its devout audience to power through–the nature of television viewing changed. Instead of indulging week after week and having to labour through commercials, viewers could “binge watch” a season over a weekend. As that is unconventional, to pour on the absurdity more, each iteration of a 13-episode season varies in length, and arcs are a thing of the past.
Debuting first on Netflix, House of Cards broke down many barriers broadcast TV had for so long laid on for its dominance. Wrought with ubiqutious Hollywood talent, the American remake of a BBC show spawned many an article pondering if Netflix’s producing style was the future of consumable content. And, if the paid channel was primed to be the next HBO. Netflix has yet to prove itself as a formidable force in original programming, but if House of Cards indicated anything, the future immediately glimmered.
The service’s second-born production, Hemlock Grove follows a few kids from the namesake Pennsylvania town. Supernatural forces abound challenge the small town’s police force after a young girl is murdered, and two schoolmates form a buddy-cop team to discover what happened. Peter, a new-in-town Gypsy suspected of being a werewolf, meets Roman, the youngest of a powerful family with the power to compel and a taste for his own blood, and they become fast friends.
Supernatural shows flood the airwaves these days–The Vampire Diaries, True Blood, Being Human, Teen Wolf–and conceptually driving these shows is a love story central to the plot. As popularized by Twilight, two male superbeings compete for the affections of one girl. Hemlock Grove employs this but on a frenetic level: Netflix’s exclusivity gives the showrunners some leeway in restoring horror into what’s just a modernistic take on the love triangle. It mostly works, if an audience can accept the show for its host of issues.
One more thing before I dig into the bad: Hemlock Grove is unabashedly gory. It doesn’t hesitate to display in full form Peter’s transformation into a werewolf in episode two (lots of early promotion showed his transformation so it’s far from a spoiler). His eyes fall to the ground, and afterwards his new wolf form makes a meal of his remains. Horror fans can appreciate this at least, showcasing some gore in a genre notoriously tame the last five years.
A series of issues hold back Grove from supernatural superiority. Sometimes horrible acting, chaotic storytelling, important characters appearing on screen without an introduction; through two episodes scenes begin to lose meaning because the series loosely associates them and avoids exposition. Murky is lightly describing the episode structure, and for a show requiring small pieces of exposition, I was woefully detached from its universe. It’s messy inasmuch as it’s campy.
Grove behaves like it knows better of the audience, throwing hints out instead of fully explaining things. That’s fine, so long as the exposition paces evenly with the plot. However, after several episodes, it’s difficult to stay attached because you’re watching a muddled mess on screen without understanding the events happening. To give value to a show entering an overcrowded field that tends to overlap plot devices is hard, especially when those competing shows build to more satisfying and well-thought conclusions.
Best to avoid Grove unless you have some serious time to kill.
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