A Netflix Original
Netflix has started producing its own content. The first of these was the mobster comedy drama Lilyhammer starring Steven Van Zandt, better known as Silvio from The Sopranos. Then the political drama The House of Cards starring Kevin Spacey was next and was well received. Hemlock Grove, the latest drama is a murder mystery with supernatural overtones and seems to be tapping into the wave of popularity for all things vampire and werewolf related, thanks to hit franchises like Twilight and True Blood. I can tell you it's not bad. I've seen other reviews called it a failed attempt and couldn't disagree more. Is it perfect? Far from it, but it is definitely entertaining and a bit on the predictable side.
Murder in a Small Town
The show begins with a gruesome murder of a teenage girl who is going to meet up with her physics teacher, who is female, for a hook up. While we don't see what mauls her to death, you definitely knows it is big and not altogether human. This is interesting but it took awhile to get there, about five to seven minutes longer than really necessary. It definitely peeks one's interest, the pacing could have been a bit better, but it is what it is.
During the filler minutes before the unfortunate demise of our teenage cheerleader, we meet up with Roman Godfrey (Bill Skarsgard), the heir apparent to the Godfrey fortune and whose family pretty much are the benefactors and the hated social elite of the town of Hemlock Grove. He's in high school, has a cool old sports car, a thing for escorts and cutting himself. The members of the Godfrey family are also introduced throughout the first episode. First off is Olivia (Famke Janssen), his overbearing mother, she irks the heck out of young Roman and he seems to want nothing to do with her. Next his sister, Shelley (Nicole Boivin, Michael Andreae and Lonnie Waugh), was brought by from the dead by technology created at The White Tower, a biotech facility owned by the Godfreys. His uncle Norman (Dougray Scott) is a psychotherapist who is treating his mother. Finally there is Roman's cousin Letha (Penelope Mitchell), that he dotes on any chance he gets. The opulence and indifference of the Godfreys is all too apparent when Olivia rents out the amusement park "The Pennsylvania" for Letha's birthday. Letha and Roman are the only two people in the park besides the park attendants. She asked Roman a question about this situation.
"What do you think they think of us?"
Roman answers, "Who?"
"Exactly," Letha retorts.
Which pretty much sums up the Godfrey's world view, we are the Godfreys. We are Hemlock Grove.
Monsters in Plain Sight
The interesting thing about the series is the way it deals with the other well know monster archetypes. Shelley is pretty much a representation of the Frankenstein monster, with her giant size and being brought back from the dead. We have the werewolf represented with Peter Rumancek (Landon Liboiron), the gypsy youth and his mother who just moved to Hemlock Grove over the summer. Destiny Rumancek, Peter's cousin who with her ability to see the future and channel spirits is basically the witch of the story. Dr. Johann Pryce is the mad scientist with hysterical strength and runs the White Tower. Finally Roman with his ability to compel others to do as he says, the urge to cut himself and has a thing for blood is as vampiric as it gets. It's a modern take on these well known archetypes and I think it was done in a pretty creative way.
Order of the Dragon
You can't have monsters without monster hunters. In this case The Order of the Dragon, is Hemlock Grove's group of dedicated werewolf hunters. The Order is ran by the Catholic Church and also seems to have interest in other areas as well. Their representative is, Dr. Clementine Chasseur who is with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, a great cover for a werewolf hunter. She is burned out and wants this to be her last job for the Order. Chasseur is also facing a conflict of conscience, she is not sure she has the right person in connection to the murder, but is being pushed by the church to bring someone in. The Order is a very opportunistic group could be using the murder to help push their own agenda. That is one of the better aspects of the series.
As with other shows before it, Netflix releases the complete season on the first day. I like this model for delivering a tv show. The freedom it allows you when viewing the episodes is fantastic. Whether its in one sitting or in one to three episode blocks you never have to wait to get back into the show. Hemlock Grove was their most downloaded show on the weekend of its release. The acting can be a bit inconsistent at times, Roman ranged from great to what felt line he was just saying a line. The same can be said with Norman, who ranged from disinterested to passionate when delivering lines. Its like the directors were afraid to tell actors to redo a scene. The pacing especially in the first episode felt drawn out and the story was all over the place. There are some mysteries introduced in the story that aren't ever explained. While others were so predictable you completely figured them out an episode to two before the answers are revealed.
What I like about the show is seemed different than some of the other shows out there. I have heard it compare to Twin Peaks and Dark Shadows, these are shows I haven't seen or watched only one episode or so. So neither color my views one way or the other. The bromance between Roman and Peter worked well. The characters interactions with each other were probably one of the better parts of the series.
The show went for an edgy feel with drugs, sex and one of the most disturbing werewolf transformations I have ever seen. They were several gay or bisexual characters who mostly were woman. Dr. Pryce was the one male character who was hinted at being gay.
In the next season, I hope the production value is kept up and the directors challenge the actors a bit more about their performances. I'm looking at you Roman and Norman Godfrey. I also hope some of the loose ends get addressed, like the "I don't want to see that!" guy. What the heck did he see? Why didn't he want to see it? It is a fun show but can be slow in the beginning. The show got better as it went along. It picked up for me around episode four for other folks around episode six. The great thing is you can fast forward or skip episodes altogether, since the whole season is available. Its definitely worth a look.